We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are

April 1, 2020

My hypocrisy knows no bounds.

In the not too distant past, I was reminded of this when I went to live and serve in Honduras. Having traveled internationally before, I often boasted that I was the opposite of an “Ugly American.” I was adaptable to different cultures; I was above the need of convenience and materialism that was so accessible in the United States. Unlike so many others, I didn’t need all the trappings of first-world comfort to feel safe and secure.

But not too long after moving to Central America, I was awakened to my hypocrisy. I missed my favorite restaurants and having regular access to US sporting events. I missed the comfort of wide-laned highways, rules of life and culture that were instinctive and easy to follow. I missed being able to communicate without pulling out a Spanish dictionary most every time. When we finally returned to the States last December, I breathed a sigh of relief that I was back where I belonged. I didn’t have to face the loss of these comforts. I no longer had to linger in my hypocrisy.

Ironically upon our return, of course, the seeds of my next phase of discomfort were already germinating in the remote regions of China. Seemingly overnight, my hypocrisy reared its ugly head again with the coming of this international health crisis. Like all of us, I became home bound, robbed of routine, freedom, and gratuitous living. I was imprisoned inside dark thoughts and dire news headlines, struggling with the ethics of choosing self-preservation over helping my fellow man. I still had the “comforts” of social media and online entertainment, but these were exposed even more as the vacuous soul-nutrition that they have always been.

Our Greatest Needs

I’ve heard it said and I think I agree that the most fundamental of human needs (where all other needs are rooted) are Security and Significance. We all need to have the basic needs of security met in our lives: shelter, food, health, safety. But we also need significance—meaning and purpose: things like parenting and marriage give us significance; having a good job or career; feeling productive or like we’re making a difference; that there’s a reason we’re here on earth and that we have a job that needs doing.

This global infection has attacked not just human bodies, but the human soul as well. It has attacked our sense of both security and significance. It has awakened us to the tension between these two needs. Our survival instinct to secure ourselves and our families has been jutted against the significance that comes from living beyond meeting just our own needs and desires.

And if you’re like me, the crisis has also awakened the hypocrisy that things we’ve relied on for comfort and safety may not provide the comfort and safety we’ve always imagined.

In this sense, our loss of security and significance has opened a window of opportunity.

The Opportunity in Loss

Here’s a passage from my book that may heighten this meaning:

The opportunity in loss is that your choices become simpler, your focus more singular. When most everything is stripped from you, you can choose to despair, or you can choose to finally surrender to the only One who can make things right. What you’re really surrendering is your definition of what matters. You live on more than God, but God is all you ultimately need. Suffering loss is often the best gateway to this discovery.

Now, the loss many have experienced and will experience during this crisis is certainly varied. For far too many, the loss of health, loved-ones, and livelihood has been devastating. For others (including me at this point), the loss of security and significance is far less, but no less eye-opening as an opportunity for growth.

God has always used loss as an opportunity to mature his children and offer them a security and significance that transcends the paltry table scraps we so often obsess over. The character Job in the Bible certainly learned through loss about what (or who) really matters. The nation of Israel had to endure 40 years of loss in the wilderness to appropriately appreciate and steward the blessings of God’s Promised Land. God’s Son had to experience the loss of his very life so you and I could grow and live forever in him.

We Are Not as Strong

So, what’s our opportunity in this current season of loss? Well, that will look different to each of us depending on the nature of our particular crisis and the differences within ourselves.

But for all of us perhaps, some clues can be found within Jesus’ perspective on loss in the Gospel of Luke:

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his very self?

And in the searing magnifying glass of songwriter, Rich Mullins:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made,
Forged in the fires of human passion,
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage.
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart,
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are.

I think the strength of God and our strength (however imagined) cannot typically coexist within the same space. My own awakening to hypocrisy, to my fear, selfishness, and weakness can be a reason to despair. But it can also provide an opportunity to strip my false foundations and rebuild on something real and lasting: a revolution in my priorities; a spring-cleaning of paper-mâché idols; a re-commitment to trust in God’s wisdom, love, and character above whether my life is going “according to plan.” In the loss of self-reliance, I discover my true self or who I’m meant to be. In the loss of my delusions of security and significance, I discover the life God truly wants me to live.

Shall We Overcome?

My wife and I took a hike in a nearby national park the other day and found ourselves so refreshed (we practiced social-distancing and weren’t out too long). After being cooped up in our house, we were enthralled to breathe in a deep source of oxygen provided by the close-knit foliage and trees. We drank in the beauty and sustenance of God’s created world. But as we struggled up and down the different inclines, I was reminded that maybe the greatest benefit of the hike during this pandemic was the opportunity to overcome an obstacle outside ourselves rather than writhing against the internal struggle to overcome our fear, loss, and hypocrisy all on our own.

I am not as strong as I think I am. I’m certainly no stronger than you. I feel as selfish and fearful and helpless as anyone during this season. Perhaps the only strategy I have is to move beyond the crisis occurring between my two ears and pursue my source of rescue from something—or Someone—outside myself. To learn from loss and exchange my weakness for God’s strength.

This crisis isn’t over yet so I’m sure new lessons will arise.

This crisis isn’t over and neither is my life here on earth. As long as I’m breathing, I have some growing to do. I have work to do.

And so do you.

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About John Michalak

An author and speaker, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years encouraging others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is available from Zondervan publishing.

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