Strength in weakness
8 July 2018 David McEvoy, Reader
Wise words from a detective
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12: 9)
I will be talking about weakness and failure this morning. And I praise the Lord that I am not using Gareth Southgate’s England squad as an example!
In one episode of the Simpsons, Homer thought he was dying and wanted to pass on some key advice to his son, Bart, before he went. He said: ‘I want to share something with you: The three little sentences that will get you through life.
Number 1: Cover for me.
Number 2: Oh, good idea, Boss!
Number 3: It was like that when I got here.’
Good advice, and advice that will stop you getting into trouble and help you get along. But it won’t help you grow. I recently came across some much words that are much more positive. They come from the detective novels of Louise Penny. The detective, Inspector Gamache has four little sayings that (he says) lead to wisdom:
I was wrong
I am sorry
I don’t know
I need help
There is real awareness of the human condition in these words. Mistakes, ignorance and vulnerability are a key part of our make-up. And it is a sign of wisdom to admit when we are wrong and to look for the help of others.
There is so much stress nowadays on getting things right and avoiding mistakes. There is so much pressure on parents to cosset their children and protect them from making mistakes, failing or taking risks. At school, the pressure for results means that teachers are forced to teach to the test and can’t give children time to explore or try out new ideas. And there is no hope for any public figure who makes a mistake, a genuine error or an act of wrongdoing that they may later regret. There is no forgiveness and no coming back. I wonder if Ant will ever perform again with Dec.
But we actually need to make mistakes and we need to let our children make their own mistakes. All of us learn more deeply when we make mistakes and learn from them. If we confront our mistakes we can find new, better ways of doing things, we can restore and build new relationships with other people, and we can become better people in ourselves.
St Paul’s weakness
We see St Paul wrestling with his weaknesses in our reading from the second letter to the Corinthians. He is writing to the Corinthians to defend himself against a group of what he calls ‘super apostles’ who had boasted of their superiority over him. They had better visions and performed greater miracles than Paul did. So, thought the Corinthians they were clearly better apostles than Paul. Paul says something like this to the Corinthians: ‘If you want visions, I can boast about visions. But that’s not the point. If anyone boasts about things like that they are boasting about themselves not about God. The only thing I want to boast about is my weakness. It is through my weakness that the power of Christ lives in me.’
Paul understands clearly the way God works in the world through Jesus Christ. He does his work, not through earthly power or glory, but through humility, service and weakness. The God that dwelt among us was a man who washed the feet of his disciples and suffered a shameful death on the cross. And God took this weakness and shame and transformed it through the Resurrection into glory and new life. We find God not through power and success but through weakness. In the reading from Mark, Jesus tells his disciples not to expect success. He sends them on their mission with humility. Paul asked the Lord to rid him of a ‘thorn in his flesh’, something that clearly hurt and unsettled him. But the Lord told him that he didn’t need a miracle to solve his problem. Jesus said to him ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
Breaking open the hard soil
So, what can we do about our weaknesses and mistakes? I hate revealing failure or weakness and I hate making mistakes. My natural response is embarrassment. I want to run away and hide and hope that I never see the people involved again. But that’s not the way to deal with them. It may be painful, but the best way is face them. Name your mistakes. Name your weaknesses. Ask yourself what you can do with them. How can you use them to learn and do things better? How can you use them to get help? How can you use them to rebuild relationships with other people? What might God be telling you to do with your failures?
Getting things right all the time and success will get us only so far. And the danger is that it can trap us in our sense of our own status and importance. It can harden our hearts.
Allowing ourselves to make mistakes, owning up to our weaknesses and mistakes will get us much further. It’s our vulnerability which breaks open the hard, dry soil of our hearts to let the water in and lets the seed buried within the soil germinate and grow. This will open us to growth as people, open us to deeper relationships with others, and will open us to the love of God.
And we a very good set of tools to help us break open this hard, dry soil in the sayings of Inspector Gamache:
I was wrong
I am sorry
I don’t know
I need help.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’.