what happens when we redefine strength

Easter night. Curtains open. The sky so dark I can no longer see out, just my reflection in the glass. It is a beautiful lull from the fun of March Madness. (We are a UCLA family and have had a lot of fun cheering on our underdog basketball team this season.) A few books next to me and one in my lap. This has been a season of listening and exploring–I hope to always seek wisdom and self-awareness. 

So I am leaning into a new movement. Taking a deeper look at how my sins point to strongholds–idols I worship, ideas I hold onto that reveal my heart’s affinity toward so many things other than God. In prayer this morning, using imaginative contemplation to experience the scene of Jesus’ tortuous laboring up to Golgotha–and the three hours of suffering on the cross under dark sky before he breathed his last breath–I think about grace and justice. I am afraid, mournfully, that, even in my depravity, I have lived most of my life expecting mercy. 

Crazy right? And how?

Jesus, the lamb of God, chose to give everything to hold up our side of the covenant–how can I love anything else more than Him? 

But if you look at my life, you’ll see that I have. This wisdom from R. C Sproul makes me squirm: 

“We are not really surprised that God has redeemed us. Somewhere deep inside, in the secret chambers of our hearts we harbor the notion that God owes us his mercy. Heaven would not be quite the same if we were excluded from it. We know that we are sinners, but we are surely not as bad as we could be. There are enough redeeming features to our personalities that if God is really just he will include us in salvation. What amazes us is justice, not grace.”

R. C. Sproul

As I sit with these words, I confess to Jesus my self-righteousness. I am selfish and wretched and yet dearly loved by a God who loves and loves and loves. I confess that I have tolerated my sin more than I have detested it. I confess that when I do this, I minimize the saving power of His grace. 

I ask Jesus to reveal to me the idols I worship. And He begins by pointing out two things I have worshipped my entire life. Strength. And independence.

Strength is something I cling to because it feels like security against failing. I struggle to accept my failures. And certainly not because I don’t fail, but because I struggle with not hating myself a little more when I do.

Failure feels intolerabe. It makes me feel weak–and I don’t like feeling weak: weak mentally or physically or emotionally. 

Jesus guides me deeper. 

I tell Him I think strength is an idol I have been worshipping my whole life. I have believed the lie that strength means security. Strength means power. Strength means being in control. I have ascribed to the world’s definition of strength rather than God’s, which is based on love, humility, kindness, trust, relationship.

The strongholds of strength and independence have had a firm grip on me. I have always worked hard to be strong–and on my own–and I have had little tolerance for weakness in myself. Of course, this affects my closest relationships too (in a not-so-positive way). I have admired strength–and I have wanted it around me–as comfort. I have also felt good about myself when I felt I was strong and I didn’t need to rely on anyone else for help. And I have appreciated people being strong and independent around me because it has motivated me to work harder to be strong and independent too.

What insidious pride. These lies, these strongholds, have got to go.

So this morning I give these idols to Jesus. I give them to Him to destroy. I give them to Him to break. In His name. With His blood. I make a declaration: I no longer worship strength and independence–and I ask Him to help me to embrace failure and relationship and trust and vulnerability and not fear them. (Oh, I have feared them.) I tell Him I have failed because I have worshiped strength and independence rather than God. And this failure humbles me and makes me realize how I am undeserving of grace and yet am desperate for it.

When I fail next, Lord, help me to see it and feel it and not run away from it and be defensive about it. Jesus, come, come, come.


For the Loop Poetry Project project this week, will you join me in considering your definition of strength? Think about a time in your life when you witnessed it, or ascribed to it, or demonstrated it. What was the scene? What was the deeper motive or feeling? What details do you associate with strength? What rises to your heart when you think of that word and what it means to you, personally? Will you write a poem about it and share it below? 

Remember we are not shooting for perfection in our writing here. We are aiming for honesty. For openness. For letting ourselves be the scribes for our hearts. (They have something amazing to say.) 

Or, you can share it in the private group over here.

May God bless you as you let Him define strength for you,

Jennifer

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com