Strength in Weakness

I have recently been ill. Nothing serious, from a long-term standpoint, just a wicked ear infection. However, I have a disorienting “whoosh” in my left ear, am off-balance, and have diminished hearing. At the beginning of the illness, I also had a fever and felt miserable overall. The experience has been worse than average because I was traveling. I was in rural France when I was struck down. I was forced to go to the Emergency Room, on my birthday, in a country where I did not speak the language. I had to wait 5 hours and struggle to communicate with the doctor about my symptoms and her diagnosis and prescription for treatment. When I finally left the ER on a Sunday morning, all the pharmacies were closed. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I found an open pharmacy and was able to get some antibiotics.

The next day, Monday, I had to travel alone from Paris back to the U.S. I had to walk from the hotel to the train station, take the train to the airport, and then navigate the airport. Ordinarily, this would be a tiring, but very doable trip. But to make this trip while feeling absolutely awful was very daunting. I considered postponing my journey, but I was anxious to get back to the U.S., where I have insurance and speak the language. In addition, my first grandchild is due any day and I really wanted to be present.

My initial reaction to the situation was to think: “Why is this happening to me, and why now?” “How can I possibly manage this?” But, then, I examined my options, or lack thereof. My choices were very limited: I could postpone my trip home, stay alone in a hotel in Paris without meaningful access to healthcare; or I could haul myself home. I chose the latter course of action.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul. He had some unnamed physical ailment, his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul’s take on it was that God allowed him this weakness “in order to keep [him] from becoming conceited.” (2nd Cor. 12:7) I don’t think that’s why I am currently ill, but there are still lessons to be learned from Paul. The Lord promises: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Cor. 12:9) Whatever the challenge or weakness faced by us, God’s grace is sufficient to see us through.

Even more mysterious is the second part: when we are weak, Christ’s power rests on us and flows through us. God’s most amazing work occurs through weak vessels; he doesn’t choose the most powerful or charismatic or most talented to perform His best tasks. The Bible is full of examples of imperfect people furthering God’s Kingdom.

So, back to my situation. Although my getting home was not my performing any big work for God, I view it as an exercise in substituting my strength for His. My trip home seemed such a monumental task. But I took each step as just that — a step, and focused on completing the immediate step ahead of me. Make it to the train station (despite going 4 blocks in the wrong direction). Make it to the train. Make it through the check-in. Make it through security. Make it to the gate (of course, the very farthest one). Make it through passport control (the longest line I have ever seen). Make it to my friend’s car in parking (after walking to the wrong parking garage). I survived the journey, sustained by prayer and a confidence in knowing that it was not the measure of my own strength that determined my success or failure.

I still have a blocked ear, and diminished hearing. As a result, I think I am listening a little closer to people, and perhaps I am ignoring more of the “noise.” While it is frustrating, I am trying to have a positive attitude and rest in the belief that this, too, shall pass.

“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.” (2nd Cor. 12:10)

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