I heard an answer long ago to this question that really stuck with me. It has helped me deal with my own weaknesses and short comings on my spiritual journey (I’ll tell it as best as I remember, I seem to have lent out the book* it came from). What do we do with weakness? How can we respond when we come to face to face with our own smallness, weakness, and trip-ups? Lent is a time when God invites us to look longer and more deeply at the way we are living our lives, at what is going on in our souls. We take whatever we find there within us and offer it to God that He may transform it. By giving our smallness to God through our Lenten intentions and sacrifices, we make a purposeful and diligent effort to offer ourselves anew Him – it is a way of dying, that we might rise with Him.
But we’re halfway through Lent now. Maybe you’re finding – I know I am – that the Lenten intention you undertook is harder than you thought. Or maybe you’re finding that it wasn’t enough, that it feels empty or unconnected from your spiritual growth. Or perhaps you’ve just been staring so long and deep at your own trip-ups that you’re feeling discouraged. I know that I’m often in a rush to “get somewhere.” I want to learn my lessons and move on – so I can get pretty frustrated when the same smallness or weakness trips me up again and again. Didn’t you teach me this already, Lord? How am I still learning this about myself, Lord? It’s easy to lose sight of the process when you’re too focused on “getting somewhere,” and it’s easy to feel jaded by your own imperfections if you think that you’re supposed to be working out your own perfection all alone.
So here it is. What to do when your own smallness stares you in the face:
1. Don’t be surprised. Why are we surprised when we stumble upon (or perhaps run smack into) our smallness? Did we think that we had “arrived” already? Don’t be surprised! We know that we will never be done learning and growing this side of Heaven. “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) We can only see partially right now – but God will continue to reveal Himself, and thus reveal our own true selves. As long as we live, God will always keep taking us deeper, further, higher, if we let Him. Which means, of course, that there will always be room for growth. So why be surprised when our vision because a little clearer and we see something broken or small within us? It’s just the next part of the adventure, the next part of us revealed and ready to be transformed.
2. Don’t be disillusioned. We need not be disillusioned before our weakness, for weaknesses are the perfect windows of God’s grace. We can instead feel hope when we are confronted with our own incapacity or sin because our weaknesses will not mean defeat if we allow God to triumph within us. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10) Indeed, when we experience our own weakness we often feel vulnerable – and that vulnerability is key in our relationship with God. To be vulnerable means to let the Other in, to choose to open the soul to God. And since God never forces His way in and never forces us to change, without this vulnerability He cannot transform us into the fullness of being for which He created us. So let your weakness give you hope and encouragement, don’t let it tempt you to despair!
3. Don’t give up. Growth is a process. As a good friend once told me, good tea takes time to steep and instant coffee sucks! Real transformation takes a lifetime. Sometimes it’s frustrating tripping over our same smallnesses over and over again. But instead of thinking of it like running around in circles, think of it like climbing up a spiral. We’re going to pass by the same way again and again, not because we aren’t growing, but precisely because we are! Each time we go round the spiral and face an old familiar hang up, we have the chance to learn about ourselves on a higher (or deeper) level – those were words from another wise friend. Always onward, always upward! “I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!” (Pslam 27: 13-14). Just like the child who keeps getting up when he falls, who keeps reaching for the stars beyond his grasp, so can we be content to grow as children before the Lord.
What do we do with weakness? Let’s review, but in the affirmative: 1. Expect to constantly discover new areas for growth. 2. See hope 3. Take courage and be steadfast of heart.
As we meditate on this halfway point of Lent and journey through the desert of our own smallness towards redemption in Christ, let Christ Himself be our archetype of how to face weakness. For it is precisely Christ’s weakness that is so striking. In the cradle and on the Cross, the God of all humbled Himself and made Himself vulnerable to us, His beloved. Fr Joseph Kentenich puts it this way:
“As long as our Lord was victorious in all he did, the apostles accompanied him joyfully. As soon as they saw him break down,they were ‘scandalized’ by his weaknesses, so in despair and like cowards they abandoned him – they were so incapable of understanding his destiny – their faith collapsed like a house of cards, they didn’t dare to do a thing in his name .His Mother and Bride stood by him faithfully, her faith remained strong even in the greatest suffering. Her love and trust knew no bounds, in everything she lived according to God’s mind. She had already seen his human side when he was a child, she had had to flee with him to a foreign country, she was the first to tell him about God’s fatherly care when he was as helpless and weak as every child. In the same way our Lord wants to show his ‘weakness’ very clearly in our lives. If we stand the tests courageously and strongly, he will go victoriously in us through our times.”**
To close I’d like to share with you a song. This is a song I meditate on when I’m struggling with my own growth process, particularly because of the line: “I’m not who I was when I took my first step, and I’m clinging to the promise that You’re not through with me yet.” May you be encouraged that God is not yet through with you, and may you give thanks that He has brought you thus far! May you take courage from Christ, and may His Mother steady your heart, that you may walk confident in grace in these last few weeks of Lent.
* Instrument Spirituality by Fr. Joseph Kentenich
** Father Kentenich speaking to the assembled Schoenstatt Family on 30 October 1966