I don’t write very often now. I feel like I mention that at the beginning of every blog post. There is less urgency behind my need to express myself. I feel resigned to the fact that my heart hurts day to day and the desire to share that has diminished. My grief has become a constant background noise instead of a immediate din that needs to be explained.
Today marks four years since the morning Jen died. I woke up seconds before my sister breathed her last. I was sleeping in her hospital room, curled up on a chair with my brothers and nephews and parents arranged around the room in various levels of sleep and sorrow. My father sat on Jen’s left, stroking her hand and Chris sat on her right, softly speaking to her. Her breathing was ragged and loud; it was clear that the time was coming soon.
Some silent whisper from God woke me up that morning in time to hear my father and Chris say to Jen that they loved her and that she should stop fighting and let go. Seconds later, I heard Chris cry out in mourning and I knew she was gone. I prize those few seconds where everything was still and I was able to see her go from my perch across the room. Slowly, everyone else in the room started to stir and we all gathered together. I know Jen would be pleased to know we were all there for her.
Many days I feel so weak for being sad all the time. I cried at a wrestling tournament a few weeks ago singing a lullaby to Finn because I just missed everyone so much. There was nothing special about that song or that place, I just couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. That seems weak to me. And if you have met me, you probably know that weak is one of the last words I want anyone to use to describe me.
In fact, I spent a majority of my childhood trying to make sure that everyone around me knew just how tough I was. That meant that I was often aggressive, pushy and punchy. That meant that I was bossy and take-charge and controlling. My edges have softened, but I think some of that still hangs on.
But in church on Sunday, I was reminded what it means to be weak. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says: (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10) “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I’ve read this many times. I’ve had people send me portions of this as inspirational encouragement, but I don’t know why it stuck out so much this week.
First of all, I realized that it’s pride that makes me want everyone to notice how strong I am. It’s pride that makes me feel like I have to put up a front all the time. It’s pride that makes me feel better when I can hold back those tears and no one knows that I’m hurting still. I have a student I admire who will just let it out when she needs to. She doesn’t worry about it too much – she just quietly cries all over her physics work because the math reminds her of her dad and she wishes he was still around to help her with it. I want to be like her in many ways.
Secondly, I realized that my focus is in the wrong place. When Paul says he pleaded with God to take the weakness away, God’s response had nothing to do with Paul. God’s response is about HIM. God doesn’t say, “You’ll get stronger in time” or “Don’t worry! No one is watching.” God points to himself and says that He is enough. His grace is sufficient. I lose sight of the fact that God is working in me when all I feel is weak. I forget that this plan is bigger than me. I forget that this plan is bigger than my reputation or appearance. I forget that this life has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Christ.
Finally, I realized that my attitude was all wrong. I should not be ashamed of my weakness or spend all my energy hiding it. I should boast in my weakness because in my weakness, God’s power gets to shine through. In my hardships and difficulties, when I am less, God is more. And I should boast gladly!
So here I am, folks, I’m a wimp. I cry at pretty much any movie I watch and most of the time I’m watching Disney movies (and still crying). I can’t take a long drive or watch a comic book movie without missing my dad and I can’t wear the color purple or talk on the phone without missing Jen. I can’t make eggs and rice or meatloaf without telling my kids a story about my brother Jake and I certainly can’t look at the moon without crying about Luna. I wake up every morning and forget for a split second that I’ve lost all these people and when that split second is over, it feels like the wound is opened fresh.
There are days when instead of getting sad, I just get angry. I am impatient and short-fused and spend more than a reasonable amount of time making the mom face at people who aren’t even my children. I snap at my mother-in-law when she offers to do my dishes. I make my kids go to bed an hour early because I am afraid I’ll yell at them for nothing and make them hate me. I mumble to myself about all the injustices I feel like I’m experiencing and then paste on a fake smile when someone comes in the room.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
It is not enough to admit my weaknesses. I think the next part of this is to acknowledge the perfect power of Christ. God in his perfect wisdom uses these weaknesses to direct me to Him, to make me more like Him and to reveal Himself to others through me. When I am weak, my message is strong because my message is that God is BIG and God is in control and God is good. God is enough.
I am weak, but I am not perfectly weak. I witnessed perfect weakness on this day four years ago, when Jen’s human body achieved perfect weakness and God’s grace took her from this world and this world’s weaknesses. Jen was one of the strongest people I know, but she knew when to let go – NO ONE would call her weak. And through her God was and is glorified.
So those of you struggling through grief (and there are a lot of you), I encourage you to embrace your weakness. For in your weakness, you are strong. In your weakness, GOD is strong. His grace is enough for us. He is enough for us. And I am praying for you.