Let me tell you a funny story. Lately I have been thinking a lot about strength and being strong. With a milestone birthday not too far in the future I've been making a greater effort to improve my health through diet and exercise. Reconciling myself to the reality that "skinny" is not an achievable goal I really just want to be strong.
Forget the abs - I'm going for great arms and shoulders.
I was always a strong kid; never the most graceful or coordinated and not the fastest, but always strong. When I did actually connect with the ball I could whack it out of the park, or spike a volleyball down my opponents' throats. I even set a regional shot-put record in eighth grade (if you know me, I really hope that is surprising). I liked being known as the strong kid.
Then time, injuries, motherhood - life, I guess - conspired against me and I was no longer physically strong. I want to change that.
But I've also been thinking about other kinds of strength. Emotional and spiritual strength that enables you to face hard circumstances and stand brave, resolved and enduring. I've been pondering different Bible verses about strength. In the book of Joshua we read, "Be strong and courageous," many times over. In Ephesians we are told to be strong in the Lord and put on his armor. Proverbs 31 describes the wife of noble character setting "about her work vigorously" with arms "strong for her tasks."
Amen! Lord, I want strong arms for my tasks! And can I get a little definition, too? Not extreme like Madonna, but maybe sculpted arms like Michelle Obama? Classy muscles.
Now here is the funny part (funny ironic, not funny ha-ha - I wasn't laughing). In the midst of meditating on strength and preparing this week's column, I fell.
Not a private little stumble. No, it was a spectacular, public spill in front of my middle school daughter and all her friends. Down like a tree, for all to see, crushing my left arm and shattering my pride. Strong? Not so much. Blind? Quite likely.
Thankfully nothing was broken but my arm hurt like it was. I ended up in a sling. And I was confronted with a graphic reminder that you cannot consider strength without thinking about weakness.
With my injury I have been forced into dependence. I've had to ask my kids to help with basic things like opening a peanut butter jar. I could not even open the shampoo in the shower. Simple every day tasks like getting dressed or opening a door are serious challenges. Never mind typing!
My injured arm has also caused me to move deliberately, cautiously and protectively. It occurs to me that imposed weakness is a powerful antidote to the hubris that sometimes hangs around strength.
When we are confident in our own strength we can be tempted into cockiness and even recklessness. I think of the Bible's strong man, Samson, whose pride in his remarkable strength led to his downfall. Moving through life a little more slowly and carefully is not a bad idea.
This is one of God's paradoxes - strength comes from weakness. When we rely on our own strength, we are weak. When we admit our weakness and trust in God, he delivers the strength we need.
When the apostle Paul pleaded with God to take away a trial that was tormenting him God answered him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul then tells us that for Christ's sake he will delight in his weaknesses, "for when I am weak, then I am strong."
I am not exactly delighting in my injured arm and bruised pride - I'm very thankful that the arm is mending quickly. And I still want to pursue strong arms (with muscle definition), but I also want to remember who takes my weakness and makes me strong - "It is God who arms me with strength" (Psalm 18:32).
Funnily enough, verse 33 says "He makes me sure-footed as a deer." I could probably use that, too!
Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.