Advent, Day 16: “Strong”

2013-12-17 15.02.53I am a day late with my photo for Day Sixteen of Advent, but no matter. Better late than never.

This photo is of a co-worker’s office chair. He had a procedure done last week. He is recovering quite well. He is a driven and productive person, though, so naturally he wants his recovery to be complete yesterday. He came to work today, but after a few hours he was in considerable pain and so had to go home. He was disappointed. This is not how he wanted the day to turn out for him. He is in a position he finds uncomfortable: weakened and needing help.

I know myself well enough to know that I would feel the same way. I feel worthless when I am not producing something. I hate asking for help. Sometimes, though, toughing it through does no one any good. Sometimes the strong thing is simply to go home, to regroup, to be deliberate about what needs to be done and what doesn’t, to balance care for others and care for one’s work against care for oneself. Sometimes the strong thing is to ask for help when you need it, and to be willing to accept help. Sometimes the strong thing is not being productive.

I am a cisgender man in the United States. The way I experience what that means is that I have been socialized to be self-sufficient above all and to view vulnerability as a weakness and a liability. It has taken me until my middle age to learn that vulnerability is a source of strength. It points towards the values that motivate me, the people and the things I care about, the compassion that connects me in solidarity with others. Vulnerability is terrifying and it hurts sometimes– a lot, actually– but, when coupled with a strong sense of appropriate boundaries, it allows me to flourish.

This Advent, I await the vulnerable Christ– the one who, in the words of what may be one of the oldest Christian hymns in the New Testament,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death–

even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8, NRSV)

The Jesus I encounter is not the muscle-bound MMA fighter of a certain megachurch pastor’s fantasies. He is one who says to me, as he said to Paul, “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He is the one who triumphs over death, but still retains his scars.

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