'What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.'
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my earsTwo very different ways of seeing the world. The first I myself have quoted time and again, usually in the middle of difficult rock climbs, trail runs, and similarly macho situations. It was spoken by the same man who coined the phrase, "God is dead," and who ended up going completely fruit-loops crazy in later life. So as appealingly macho as it all sounds, perhaps we aren't required to take him too seriously when he talks about that which makes us stronger.
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret.
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led.
Rich Mullins, Hard to Get, 1997
The second was written by a Christian singer and songwriter who could have been a millionaire many times over, but who chose to spend his last years living in a hogan and giving free music lessons to Navajo kids. He recorded the song "Hard to Get" just a few days before being killed in a car accident. His songs, and this one especially, make it clear that, in the end, he had little to offer to God except his brokenness.
Our son was supposed to arrive this Sunday. God, how I miss him. How I miss what he could have been, what he should have been. How I mourn the pain my wife went through. How I miss the vision of myself with a son to raise, of Katie with a little brother to help care for, of Mom with another boy in her life. How I still hurt over this time of destruction, even now, months later. Our lives are still very much defined by what happened, and I am tired of all of it.
No, the pain did not destroy me. But for just a moment, I have to set aside my red-blooded, Louie L'Amour-style rugged individualism and face facts. The pain has not made me stronger. It has incapacitated me in many ways. It has left me completely exhausted. It has made me physically weak and mentally dull. It has made struggles out of things that used to give me joy.
I am sick of writing things that will encourage others through my pain: I just want to be happy again. I am tired of enduring patiently: I want to be well-rested again; I want my wife to quit hurting; I want my daughter to quit being freaked out because Mom and Dad are upset. I am sick and tired of facing all of this with a smile and a spiritual perspective, of talking with great wisdom about the good God brings from our pain: I just wish I could have my son back.
I try, with some success, to smile and do good work and see the good in things, of course, and there is a great deal to see. There is very much to be happy about, and most of the time I am able to keep my focus on those things. But I always see it through the lens of regret and exhaustion.
I am a tough person. It takes a lot to keep me down. That's the biggest reason I've stuck with the whole "badger" thing through the years. Badgers are indestructible. They aren't deterred by long odds. Once they get hold of something, they don't let go.
But this particular badger feels like he's been run over by a bulldozer. Several times. And even though I recognize the truth of it, my whole nature still rebels against what Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 12:
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Why does this thought stick in my throat? Because I don't WANT to be weak. I want to tell Paul no, that's all wrong. I'm not supposed to be content; I'm supposed to overcome. I'm supposed to laugh. I'm supposed to get my body back in shape. I'm supposed to be an amazing husband and have a great garden and get my kids to pull off amazing concerts. I'm supposed to tough it out, to get over it, to overcome, to get on top of all this. Of course, those are all good things, and I plan to do all of them in good time. But being strong like that? Sometimes it's working. But only sometimes. I'm still broken.
So maybe that's what Rich was getting that, and what old Fred missed, smart guy that he was. Maybe the point isn't that pain makes us stronger. Maybe the point is that it drives us to our knees. Maybe I'm not supposed to grow; maybe I'm supposed to shrink. Even though it is really, really not what I want, maybe I'm supposed to be small again.
Because it's then that I seem to find myself closest to the source of all true strength, when I find that his power is perfected in weakness.
I'm still trying to get my head around this. I think it is something I am supposed to learn...