To the Strong Ones

I love the new push to be “strong not skinny.”  I often see many of my Facebook friends post this as their status along with photos of them lifting weights or promoting a healthier lifestyle.  Each time I see this I get a surge of motivation and think, “yeah I could totally do that!” or “they look great, bet they feel great too!”  Unfortunately, both of these thoughts can be false, because quite frankly the heaviest weight I lift is an 8 lb milk jug from the shelf to the grocery cart, so I definitely could not “totally do that.”  And then not everyone feels better when they start improving their muscle tone, some of them feel like crap initially.  But the perception is a much better story so I choose to go with that rather than the truth. (Please do not get discouraged athletic Facebook friends, I still need to see your progress…maybe eventually it will be just the kick in the behind that I need.  You would think the lack of definition in my abs would do this, however, not so much.)

Another perception that I buy into is “strong not sissy.”  What I mean by this is the ability to be an emotional rock, steadfast, always in control, the fixer of all things chaotic and broken, the maker and completer (is that a word?) of the lists, un-offendable, the goal-setter and attainer, the one everyone turns to in a crisis, the last-minute pull-it-off gal.  Get the picture?  This isn’t just part of my identity, it IS MY IDENTITY.  Got a new program you need someone to lead?  I’m your girl.  Got an impossible deadline that you need to meet?  I’m your girl.  Need someone to swoop in and make some adjustments to your life for you?  I’m your girl.  Seriously, what is my problem?

At a good friends’ recommendation I’ve been reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist (aka listening to the free audio book version, thank you Hoopla) and it is literally opening my eyes to truths I have believed about myself for years that have morphed into a damaging lifestyle. Here is a quote from her book that is just, for lack of a better word, whoa.

“I’ve always given my best energy to things outside myself, believing that I’d be fine, that I was a workhorse, that I didn’t need special treatment or babying or, heaven help me, self- care. Self- care was for the fragile, the special, the dainty. I was a linebacker, a utility player, a worker bee. I ate on the run, slept in my clothes, worshiped at the altar of my to- do list, ignored the crying out of my body and soul like they were nothing more than the buzz of pesky mosquitoes. Now I know that in the same way I’ve always believed God’s Spirit dwells deeply in this world, it also dwells deeply in me. I’ve known that, cognitively, but my life spoke otherwise. Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well- tended spirit, a wise and brave soul. My regrets: how many years I bruised people with my fragmented, anxious presence. How many moments of connection I missed— too busy, too tired, too frantic and strung out on the drug of efficiency. Now I know there’s another way. You don’t have to damage your body and your soul and the people you love most in order to get done what you think you have to get done. You don’t have to live like this.”

That’s some sage wisdom right there.  If you relate to this then please buy this book immediately, like yesterday.  After reading (and re-reading) this paragraph my soul reverberated with the phrase, “You don’t have to be all things to all people.”  It’s like I had permission to just stop.  Just be.  Just sit.  Just relax.  Just breathe.

Then the panic set in.  But who will (fill in the blank) if I don’t?  What if (fill in the blank) happens and I’m not there to take care of it?  And the scariest question of all:  Who will I be if I’m not the strong one?

I like to think I’ll be the content one, the joyful one, the loving one.  That’s the one I want to be.  But the truth is I simply don’t know.  I don’t imagine that I’ll let this identity go easily.  After all, it is the source in which I have received so many accolades, so much recognition.  It has brought about success in my life.  Being the strong one helped me to get through three difficult pregnancies while simultaneously attaining three different degrees.  It helped sustain me while I worked full-time and opened two small businesses.  It helped me push through personal tragedy and focus on the end-game.  It’s helped me to ignore the constant negativity and degrading from others who said that I would never amount to all that I aspired to be.  It has encouraged me to push through when others gave up.  I’m proud of being strong…well, until I remember what it has cost me.  It’s cost me close friendships, years I’ll never get back with my family, my health, self-love, and the ability to appreciate the present.  Was it a fair trade?  I used to think so but now I’m not so sure.

I’ve justified my actions with verses in the Bible that encourage us to be “strong and courageous.”  I’ve left church services feeling prideful when the message included content regarding perseverance and “staying the course.”  Buddy, I can do that all day long.  But there was one missing critical factor:  God.  Instead of demonstrating my strength and courage through faith in Him, I demonstrated my strength and courage in MYself and MY abilities to get things done.  I took a personality trait that God intended for good and twisted it to fit a context in which it was never intended.  Yes, God wants people who can lead and meet deadlines.  Yes, he wants dependable people who do what they say they are going to do.  Yes, he wants people who are willing to work hard for His kingdom.  But here is the thing, trusting in my strength subtracts from His.  He says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

This weakness is not weakness in character, rather a weakness in the ability to trust in myself over God.  Weakness by admitting that I am fallible, that I make mistakes, that I don’t always have the right answer or know what’s best.  I’m almost two weeks into this life-changing experiment to live purposeful and let me tell you my weaknesses are highlighted.  I mean like on a stage with a spotlight under a magnifying glass kind of highlighted.  And although acknowledging that these weaknesses exist is an important first step, it isn’t the only step that begs to be taken.  It requires action.  So, it sounds funny when I say that one of my first calls to action is to rest…but seriously, that is what I feel called to do.

I’m not even sure I know how to rest.  What does that even look like?  I mean I know how to Netflix-binge, to stay in PJ’s all-day piddling around my house, how to go on a frazzled, activity-packed vacation, and how to waste countless hours on the Internet.  Does that count?  Somehow, I think not.

I think it looks like this:
-Creating margin to think, plan and pray.  It’s impossible to be intentional without being reflective.
-Actually sleeping, like a full 8 hours a night.  I know right?!? Like c’mon God, how were we supposed to know that “resting” could actually mean “sleeping.”  Geez! 😉
-Taking a time-out each week to fully experience life.  This could mean simply sitting in the floor with my kids playing a game or building a racetrack while actually looking at them or going to lunch with a friend in which there is no agenda or going on a hike with my husband on the acreage that surrounds our house while holding hands.

Do real people actually do these things?  I definitely plan on finding out.

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