Perhaps it's because I'm the youngest of five. Or maybe it's because I'm short and always looked young for my age when I was a teenager and in my 20s (although nobody says that anymore!). It could be because my mother really valued strong women. Or possibly if I didn't tell myself that I was strong, I'd be tempted to cry over everything. But for whatever reason, I always wanted to be the strong one.
The trouble is I'm not.
I feel fairly strong in spirit, but I got stuck with a really weak body.
For example, my husband and I went on an all-day kayaking trip on Lake Superior with five other couples. As I thought about this trip, I felt a bit of pride that I was in good shape. I'd been walking a mile or two a day for months and knew that was more than many of my friends had been doing. I figured that kayaking all day would make me tired, but that I'd be in better shape than some of the other women going (I worried about a friend who has MS and another who had cancer recently).
I went into the trip tired. It had been a busy month at home and at work, but I wasn't too worried. I figured this was a different kind of activity and such a break from the routine would energize me.
We spent the morning gliding through sea caves and exploring nooks and crannies in the fog of Lake Superior. It was breathtakingly beautiful, with the sun breaking through the mist. We even saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree on the shore. But when we stopped for lunch, I felt exhausted. I figured I just needed to eat, so I didn't lose courage yet.
But as soon as we got into the kayak to begin our return journey, I knew I was shot. I tried paddling for a little while, but soon gave up because I could hardly lift my arms. Then the wind picked up, dispersing the fog, but causing choppy waves. My exhaustion turned to seasickness, and I held my head over the side of the kayak. Finally, my poor husband asked the guide for help and they towed us into shore.
As I dragged myself onto the shore, I collapsed in a heap. My friends cheerfully came ashore a little later and kindly stopped to ask how I was and tell me they were praying for me. My friend with MS and the one who had cancer were in great shape. It was humiliating.
Since then, I've been trying to process why it was so humiliating. I want to be the one who is helping everyone else. I don't want to be the one in need. If I'm helping others, I can feel good about myself and even a bit superior. But when I'm the one who is in need, I feel powerless and weak.
I've learned that lesson before, but it's always hard to learn again in new circumstances. I wanted to be the one who encouraged my weaker friends, not the one who was completely at their mercy and kindness. But perhaps each time I learn this lesson, I gain a glimpse of what Jesus did for us. A perfect, strong being, he gave it all up to take on a weak human body that would suffer humiliation and death for our sakes.
I love Philippians 2, but mostly I've focused on the first part in my ministry to others:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
I like humbling myself. That feels good and spiritual. I don't like being humbled by my weak body. But that reminds me of what follows the previous verses:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
Maybe when I'm weakest, I understand this best.
JoHannah Reardon, a pastor's wife, is the managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com. She blogs at www.johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and a family devotional guide.
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