“I feel sort of thin, like butter scraped over too much toast,” Bilbo Baggins tells Gandalf in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I love the word picture in that sentence, partly because it’s such good writing but mostly because I can relate to the experience. Can you?
There’s not enough of me to go around.
I can’t manage all of these responsibilities.
I feel pulled in every direction.
I’m exhausted and ready to give up.
Weakness. It’s not a pleasant thing. To feel overwhelmed, out of your league, unable to cope, or stretched too thin is something every one of us can relate to – and yet that doesn’t make it any less painful! And the things that come out along the way can be excruciating as well. When butter gets spread too thin, holes emerge. Sin comes out. You yell at your five-year old because you’re stressed from trying to chauffeur your teens to all the places they’re supposed to be. Or inadequacies get exposed. You forget all about the promise you made to pray for a friend, or that you were supposed to teach children’s ministry this week, or that the car needs servicing again. Things you know you shouldn’t be doing are multiplying. Things you know you should be doing are falling through the cracks.
All of this can make us wonder: What have I done to get myself in this position? How did I end up so overwhelmed, so stressed, so…weak? Is something wrong with me? Listen to these words from Richard Bauckham:
Anyone who knows only his strength, not his weakness, has never given himself to a task which demands all he can give. There is no avoiding…weakness, and we should learn to suspect those models of human life which try to avoid it….To be controlled by the love of Christ means inevitably to reach the limits of one’s abilities and experience weakness. (“Weakness, Paul’s and Ours,” Themelios, 1982)
I don’t want to imply that every experience of weakness or insufficiency is part of God’s call on our lives. It’s possible to unwisely attempt more than God would have us do. Sometimes we need to say “no.” But having said that, we must recognize that for the Christian weakness is not something to be avoided at all costs. On the road of gospel obedience, whether in ministry or parenting or vocational work or anything else, a sense of weakness is a gift from God. It is a painful mercy that drives us to the power of our Lord and away from our delusions of self-sufficiency. And the fact that you experience weakness is often the indicator that you are exactly where the Lord wants you, giving yourself wholly to the work he has called you to do.
Do you feel weak? Do you feel spread too thin? Take heart, child of God. Faithful Christians are weak Christians. God doesn’t call or use supermen or women. He uses weak believers, and he calls believers to weakness, and through it to dependence on him. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (1 Cor. 12:9).
+photo by Photo by Rennett Stowe