The week I stepped into my new role as co-lead pastor, I attended a major convention for Christian leaders. I went with an open heart, hoping it would equip me for all that was ahead in my new ministry. It certainly did. But not in the way I expected.
The more workshops I attended and bookstands I perused, the stranger I felt. Suddenly I was an artist at a business convention, an introvert at an extrovert's gathering, a foreigner at an American event, a woman in a man's world. Everything that was going on there was good and godly and helpful to many … but it was not much help to me.
The programs and metrics didn't resonate with me. The assumptions didn't include me (statements like "leaders will be motivated by … " and "your church wants a man who … ") As far as I could tell, no one in this huge gathering of church leaders looked or sounded or thought like me. I hadn't gone with a chip on my shoulder, expecting to be marginalized. In fact, it was my expectation to be welcomed and included. Disillusioned, I fled to my hotel room, where I told God, "This job isn't for me. I have nothing to give. You've made a mistake."
The realization was so disturbing to me—after years of education and prayer and preparation for this role—that for the next 24 hours I couldn't leave that little hotel room. It's a blur to me now, but my memories of it include tears, retching, fitful sleep, and the kind of prayer that scrapes your insides on its way out. In the middle of my despair, God's voice was, as usual, assuring but vague: "A broken and contrite spirit I will not despise … In your weakness I am strong."
And so, I began my new phase of leadership, not with assurances of my great ability but with a mental map of the cavernous emptiness within.
And yet I also had a sense of God's strength, enough for me to step uneasily into the work he set before me. In the process, I've learned how real strength from weakness can be.
Strength From Weakness
Being a woman can feel like weakness. Your body teaches you your limits. From the time you're small, there is always someone bigger, with a stronger body and a deeper voice. And as you grow, you learn how little control you have over your own body, from a sometimes painful, often embarrassing inconvenience that will visit you every month to the strange season of having a person growing inside of you for 9 months. When the little bundle makes its appearance, your body goes from creator of life to sustainer of life. All kinds of new systems kick into gear. It's a miraculous process but one completely beyond your control. As you go from mother to grandmother, your body begins to change again, throwing you into a state of confusion as the steady cycles you have grown accustomed to become syncopated and erratic and then finally stop altogether.
Inhabiting this ever-changing form forces you to acknowledge (even celebrate) your limits and to sense your responsibility to and reliance upon the broader community. So if being a woman teaches humility and collaboration, isn't it a strength to be a woman?
Being an artist can feel like weakness, too. You are spurred on by an unending search for truth and beauty. You can have your breath stolen by the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing and be unfit for anything else but crying or singing or writing about it for the rest of the day. And once you've found that tiny sign of hope, you must make sense of it. And so you make things to process and express it, trying to capture all the feeling and meaning for others through the limited media of notes and words and paint. You step into a creative process that is sometimes cruel and raw, a little too close for comfort. Then, with shaking hands, you put that outpouring of your soul into a public form and hope that someone understands.