By and large, at least for most of us, it seems very important that we appear strong in the eyes of others. That no one can push us around. That should we wish it… we have the power to pretty much take what we want.
So we try to gather to ourselves the symbols of this “strength” that we imagine: a “ripped” body, wealth, influence. And often, these efforts to make ourselves appear strong end up putting us in conflict — even at war — with others who are after the same thing.
But do we ever ask, what is the real source of strength?
Do we really control our physical strength when sickness and age can drain us of it, and we fear the ravages of time?
Does money really give us strength when we’re always afraid it can be lost, or we won’t have enough — or we see that nothing we buy ever fills the empty space?
Does power over others really make us strong when we can face rebellion and be dethroned by others who wish to be strong themselves? Or when one dissenting voice fills us with rage?
The fact is that none of these forms of strength are real strength, because they’re not permanent, they don’t give us a constant sense of command — and they’re not really ours.
We didn’t create our bodies, or the earth we walk upon. We don’t beat our own hearts or give ourselves the power to move, and think, and speak. Everything we are is a reflection of greater powers than we can know, and our true strength comes in aligning ourselves with them.
Energy flows naturally from the higher to the lower. We receive our power from above, and our true strength comes in being in conscious relationship with the higher, where our weakness relative to it is the invitation for it to fill us with its boundless strength.
This truth has been expressed by the great sages across the centuries. Here are some quotations for you to ponder:
My grace is sufficient for thee because my strength is made perfect in thy weakness.
— II Corinthians 12:9 (55 A.D.)
Peter of Damascus assures us that “nothing is better than to realize one’s weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than not to be aware of them.”
— Philokalia (300 A.D.)
When God sees that in all purity of heart you are trusting in him more than in yourself… then a strength unknown to you will come to make its dwelling in you. And you will feel in all your senses the power of Him who is with you.
— Isaac Of Nineveh (650 A. D.)
God will not only show you how physically weak you are, but how spiritually weak you are without Him. How strong you will be when you see that you are completely weak. Then you will always be able to believe that you are mistaken. Open yourself to the insight of others. Do not be dogmatic. Speak the truth simply.
— Francois Fenelon (1651)
Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indignation which arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely assailed. A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; he is cured of the insanity of conceit; he’s got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803)
Oh Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds, I come to you as one of your many children. I need your strength and your wisdom. Make me strong not to be superior to my brother, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy; Myself.
— Chief Dan George, Coast Salish (1899)
And it is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close to us for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.
— Thomas Merton (1915)
The more we try to force strength, the more we suffer from a quality that we can’t really control, can’t really keep, and can never really enjoy.
This doesn’t mean we don’t act in the world when it comes to practical matters. But when it comes to seeking a sense of ourselves that gives us fulfillment and true power, we must realize we can’t give it to ourselves, but we can open ourselves to be filled by the true source of our very being.
Your Imperfection Is the Doorway to Your Greatest Strength
We usually run away from seeing our imperfections and weaknesses. And we would do anything not to have others see them. But in fact, these are the opportunities to find a new order of strength. Yes, we will be imperfect in our attempts to connect with this higher strength, but that is also part of the beautiful journey of transformation.
So don’t get discouraged. And don’t judge yourself. OneJourney founder Guy Finley explains…
The hardest part of the journey along the upward path is the gradual realization that one’s work to awaken is, at best, imperfect. Along the ascending path each footfall serves to echo an unwanted reminder of one’s imperfect actions, imperfect thoughts, imperfect emotions, imperfect devotion, imperfect attention, so forth on and so on. However, seeing the truth of oneself in this light is but half the trial, and in some ways the lesser of the challenges to be faced along the Way.
Have you found something in your own tradition that reveals the true source of strength? If so, please share a quotation about it with us. We can all help and learn from one another. So, please click here to submit your quotation to the OneJourney Living Book.
Dr. Ellen Dickstein
The OneJourney Project