My friend Anya and I have been going through a Bible study together called Stronger, by Angela Thomas. Overall it is a really excellent study book, with the general theme of “finding hope in fragile places.”
I’ve realized upon going through Stronger is that I have a high aversion to the word “strong.”
When you’ve experienced the death of your father, grandfather, cousin, mentor, and multiple friends within a five year span, strength feels like a metaphorical concept that doesn’t really exist. When people point out how strong they think I am, or how strong I must have been at any given time, my first instinct is to refute their claim. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) has become an overused platitude that I hear all the time and I’ve come to resent.
It’s not that I don’t believe that God is our strength when we have none. There are countless verses in the Bible telling me so.
But fact of the matter is, while God is my strength, and I know that to be true, that doesn’t mean having that knowledge enables me to feel strong all the time. That’s the goal, but it’s rarely my reality.
As I’ve been thinking through this concept and continuing with the Stronger study, a verse in Proverbs jumped out at me:
“Do not be afraid of a sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from getting caught.” – Proverbs 3:25-26
I instantly identified with every word.
It points out that terror and the effects of evil are things I will definitely face. It isn’t a matter of if it comes, it’s WHEN it comes. We will all face really hard things, and this verse assures us that when we do, we don’t need to be afraid of it. In my experience, there’s a difference between not fearing your circumstances and being strong within them.
The proverb also says that the Lord will be our confidence. Having confidence in God is something I can make sense of. I can be confident that God can be trusted and is in control. I can be confident that He is my hope. It also says that the Lord will keep your foot from getting caught. To me, this gives me assurance that I won’t get stuck.
As the tough times come and go, I don’t have to live my life dwelling inside them.
For whatever reason, I find it much easier to take comfort in those things than in “strength.” Maybe it’s just the common definition of “strong” that bothers me. It implies that I can handle it. It implies that I’ve “got it” and that I don’t need any help, because strong people have it covered. That’s definitely not what all the Bible verses on strength are trying to say, but that’s what we’ve made them out to be.
I think it’s a simple matter of reevaluating our word choice. Instead of telling me I’m strong, ask me what I need. Instead of blindly throwing out Bible verses about strength, remind me of the God I’m dependent on.
Strength shouldn’t be used as a blanket covering to solve everyone’s problems. Strength isn’t a way to blow-off someone’s struggles so you don’t have to address them further. At the end of the day, being strong is not always an easily attainable goal, and that should be respected for those who are struggling to reach it.