“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.
“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien).
I started off strong.
Or so I thought.
When I was born, my parents named me Laura, which means “Victory.” Appropriately, I was successful in just about anything I tried: swimming, running, reading, writing, math, science, acting, and leadership—you name it, I could do it, and do it well. As I grew up, our winner-loving culture accepted me with open arms and lured me along with incentives to keep striving toward strength and success.
I learned that a strong person earns her keep, competes fiercely, is never satisfied, denies failure, and guards herself from anyone who might tear her down. (Sounds like a Nike commercial, doesn’t it?)
Interestingly, my middle name means “Christian,” and from the time of my birth, Jesus Christ was also working in my life. He drew me to Himself when I was just a child. Though I only faintly grasped the truths of the gospel at that young age, Jesus saved me.
You’d think that this dynamic duo—Victory + Jesus—would result in an amazingly strong Christian. But as it turns out, something else happened entirely.
Striving to Be Weak
The work Jesus has been doing in my heart is diametrically opposed to strength and success. For as long as I can remember, He has been turning my attention toward the outcast, breaking my heart over cruelty, and tuning my ear to injustice. He has been teaching me the beauty of humility, the necessity of limitations, the peace of a quiet life, and the pleasure of nurturing children.
Admittedly, He has allowed some hard breaks to draw my attention to my own pride, self-reliance, and guardedness. On top of that, He keeps bringing me to vistas in Scripture that elevate God so high it takes my breath away and shows me how very small I am, indeed.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps. 8:3–4).
It seems as if Jesus doesn’t want us to be “strong Christians”: He wants us to be “weak Christians,” people who acknowledge our finite humanity and wholly rely on Him. He wants us to be people who are not constantly pushing against our limitations but who receive our work from God with humility.
As for me, the “Victory” part of my name is entirely His own.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat. I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads (Ps. 109:22–25).
A Wrestling Match
Today, I’m a thirty-something stay-at-home-mom homeschooling my children. Every day I live in the tension of being human in a culture that values those who strive to be superhuman. I wrestle between the desire to be strong in the world’s eyes and the calling to be poor and needy in God’s eyes. I wonder if the hidden work that I’m doing here at home is worth my time, my education, and my skill set.
I wonder if faithfulness in marriage is worth the moments of tension and sacrifice. I wonder if my humble prayer life and simple Bible study amount to anything at all. I wonder if I should just go for it and make my life a big success. It’s hard not to wonder when the resounding message of our generation is, “Go pro! Actualize yourself! Be all that you can be!”
I bet you wonder, too.
I see my friends struggling to be successful and strong. I see the Christian culture lured by strength-finders, efficiency models, and self-help plans. We want to do it all and have it all; we want to ignite revolutions, revivals, and crusades, but as long as “human strength” is our strategy, we’ll fail. We’ll gossip, slander, whine, complain, and rot in jealousy of one another.
But God is the heavyweight in this wrestling match, and He lovingly pins us down under this truth: that we are only human, after all. Over and over again, He reminds us through Scripture that He created humans from the dust on purpose. He created us small, hungry, and fragile to make room for His great strength. We will play a part in bringing His kingdom to earth insomuch as we desperately need Him. Our best work is in worshiping God, being gentle with the people He created, and submitting to His Word.
The secret is in acknowledging our weakness.
He made us that way.
I must say, it is always a relief to remember that I’m “only quite a little fellow.” With Bilbo Baggins I say, “Thank goodness.”
How do you feel about your God-ordained limitations and weaknesses? Would you rather be a superhero?
Today, write a prayer of confession about any discontentment or pride in your heart. Then write a prayer of thanksgiving and worship to the God who made you small and, in that smallness, significant.