When Thurston was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983, perhaps you can understand the shock that we felt. It was rare. It was cancer. It was in his body. As physically weak as he became through surgery and radiation treatments, our emotions were also weakened by the uncertainties that lay ahead.
We had only been married four years and were looking forward to starting our family. That plan came to a screeching halt by orders of the oncologist. Everything was different, and like anyone else, we both asked “Why?”
In retrospect, as I see my husband sharing his story without shame or embarrassment, I see the strength that came out of his weakness. He had a new mission, created out of pain, insecurity, doubt, anxiety and grief. He became determined to make his difficult experience something that would have meaning beyond the diagnosis. He did it well.
He was not, however, always strong. He grieved often, especially as checkups rolled around – every three months at first, then every six months, then once a year. He endured these times, but they were difficult to manage. Nothing I could say or do could ease his anxiety that the word “cancer” might come up in conversation with the physician.
Even in those weak times, however, he willingly shared his story when appropriate, knowing that he was a vessel of education for men and women. He became a strong advocate, writing letters to major news magazines, being featured in newspaper articles and on the American Cancer Society website, being interviewed by television stations and speaking to groups as requested.
Thurston was a quiet man who never sought attention, but cancer brought him attention that he embraced. He became strong through weakness.
The apostle Paul spoke about weakness. Yeah, that strong apostle that suffered recurring tragedies – shipwrecks, torture, imprisonment, just to name a few.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 2:9b-10)
Folks, in our western minds, this just ain’t right. Strength is what we value and a quality that we admire in others. We value physical strength, emotional and mental strength. We struggle with weakness and perceive it as a handicap, something that prevents us from being “all that we can be.” We don’t like to admit weakness, and we certainly don’t want to listen to someone else’s stories of fragility and struggle.
“Buck up,” we say, and “move on.” God’s written words through Paul challenge our western mindset. Perhaps we just gloss over verses like this because they don’t fit our western image of strength – rugged individualism. It is quite difficult for us to learn to be interdependent; stoic determination is the modus operandi.
Not so, says Paul. “I delight in weaknesses.” If Paul walked among us teaching this perspective, we would think him a fool. And yet, in God’s kingdom, Paul hits the nail on the head. That’s why saying you follow Jesus Christ is serious business. That’s why exposing your weaknesses increases the power of Christ in you. Our lives in Christ are about glorifying him. True believers are not strong from within, but strong from the power of Christ in them.
Paul asked Christ to remove one specific weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," Christ answered (2 Corinthians 2:9a). We need to rethink strength … and weakness.