In truth I am not a very strong person. When I was a child I was so sickly and weak that my dad said he remembers placing me in my crib, looking down at me crying, and giving me to God. He told God that He could take me if he wanted because my dad didn’t know what else to do to help me. I was a year old and 14 pounds, skin and bones, sallow eyes.
Turns out I was allergic to the burning of wood used to heat the house. Who knew? But when they moved, I gained weight.
I wasn’t so strong growing up either though. Always anemic and slightly underweight. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 8. Doctor said it was so severe I would be in a back brace by the time I was 16 and would likely be facing surgeries. My parents opted for therapy in the form of ballet instead to develop my almost non-existent muscle tone and chiropractic care (including a shoe lift) to straighten out my spine. It worked. Crisis averted.
As I have grown I have had my share of physical challenges—autoimmune disease and all the things I have talked about until even I am tired of talking about them. Maybe that’s why I love hiking so much. I can prove to myself in some small way that I can do hard things.
Maybe what I lack in physicality, God made up for in spirituality. I am no expert on the mind of God, certainly. But in all my physical challenges, I have certainly known there is strength in the “sanctuary of my baptized soul” as the prayer says. Even as a little child, my relationship with Jesus felt like an intimate thing, like maybe I was actually his favorite or that he had something special for me. Something like what St. Catherine of Sienna calls her inner cell. So many people today tell you to look within and find divinity. But, I think it is more accurately explained that one goes within to create a little cell and then invite Divinity to meet you there and to commune with you.
I was thinking of this today as I thought about what it means to be strong. A dear friend told me so clearly last week, when I was feeling my worst, “You are not weak.” I believed him, because he never lies. And yet, of course, I was not feeling very strong at all.
Meeting Divinity within that inner sanctuary is the thing that makes sense when the world feels chaotic and disordered and when that chaos and disorder tries to creep into my soul. That deep place—that temple of the Holy Spirit—is where there is strength, despite me feeling weak physically or spiritually.
When I was going through the initial pain of separation and divorce another friend texted me, “Ask Jesus to be the Master of your emotional house. Lay it out before him and ask him what he wants you to keep and what he wants you to let go of. And then ask him to feel everything with you.”
It has been two years since he said this to me and I think maybe this Lent I will do a little soul spring cleaning with this as the guiding light. Jesus, Master of my emotional house, what do you want me to keep? And what do you want me to release?
Will I be able to let go though? Will I be strong enough to let the Master take what he wants? I tend to be overly sentimental about the tchotchke things in my soul.
Follow strength. That is the thing, isn’t it? If you want to be strong, you do the strong thing—maybe even if you don’t feel like it. Maybe spend extra time in that inner cell until you do feel like it.
During the pain of my separation when it was clear that he would not be coming back and the grief hung heavy in the air like the thickest fog that rolls in from the coast, the same friend sang this into my phone. When things were so dark and I lay awake wondering what my life would be, I would listen to this like a balm for all the sore spots in my heart.
Things are still challenging, but not that same kind of dark. The fear isn’t there and that particular pain is healing. I still wonder what will become of my life. But, the Master of my emotional house is still there, holding space for me.
If you are going through something that pushes the limits of your abilities, you find your courage waning, and you aren’t sure which way to go, follow strength.
If you want to be strong, do the strong thing. If you are faced with two choices, choose the strong one. That’s where the Holy Spirit is. He is always calling us deeper into intimacy with him in that secret place. Sometimes no one else understands that. You may not be able to articulate it or share it. Yet, hang onto it. Follow strength. Carry on.
(Song by Jimmy Creznic)