I have spent much of my life trying to sidestep my weaknesses. I want to be strong. I want to be capable. But when I developed the confusing and frustrating condition of trichotillomania in my junior high years, it was a weakness that I could never get away from. I was pulling out my eyelashes and eyebrows, and I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. And for a capable kid to not be able to stop pulling out her own eyelashes? To not be able to explain it to anyone? It felt embarrassing. It felt humiliating. I couldn’t fix it.
Although I couldn’t name it this way at the time, I was starting to learn that in the place of wanting to be healed but simultaneously being unable to make myself better, I had to stop trying. I had to wait.
Let me put it more honestly: I was forced to wait. I had to wait for someone stronger than I was to move on my behalf.
This is why waiting often feels like weakness: we feel helpless and stuck. We don’t know what to do, and it’s hard to trust that God is still in control when the thing we think we need from him is the one thing he won’t give.
That’s why, if I’m being honest, on days when my weakness is most pronounced, I often wonder where God is. I know that somehow, spiritually and physically, he is with me, inhabiting me through the Holy Spirit. But sometimes there is a disconnect between my cognitive knowledge of God’s goodness and strength, and my experiential reality. There are times when I can’t feel his goodness and strength—often when I’m feeling my own weakness instead.
Because when I look at weakness, I see only that weakness slows me down, holds me back, forces me to look into that cavern between who I am and who I want to be. And as a girl in junior high, I saw the weakness of trich as something that kept me from what I desired—normalcy, beauty, freedom.
That’s not how God looks at weakness. The apostle Paul famously declared that he would boast in his weakness. Paul said he prayed three times that God would take away his “thorn in the flesh.” The response he received from God is what turned his pleading into boasting. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). From that place of hearing God’s response to his suffering, Paul says he’s able to “delight in weaknesses,” for “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, niv).
The Greek word for weakness in this passage is astheneia. It can refer to a weakness of the body or the soul, but both types are connected to a lack of strength. The precise definition is “want of strength.” This weakness in the body can be due to frailty or illness, while the weakness of the soul is the inability—the lack of strength—to understand something, to restrain ourselves from doing something wrong, to carry burdens and trials, or to do anything glorious or great.
So when Paul boasts about his weakness here, he is boasting about his lack of strength, his physical frailty, and his inability to do anything wonderful on his own. And it seems that Paul accepted his own weakness because he experienced God’s unending strength when he found himself in lack—literally “in want”—of his own strength.
In my struggle with the weakness of trichotillomania, I couldn’t see any of that. I wanted to be done with it. But maybe I was missing what God was telling me as a young girl. As I ponder these passages now, I wonder if I was unable—or unwilling—to hear what God wanted me to know in those years.
Could I have accepted it if he told me that my weakness didn’t disgust or repel him in the same way my weakness disgusted me? Could I have heard it if he asked me to enter into my weakness rather than run away from it? Could I have received it if he was telling me that the strength I can access through him is greater than any strength I have in myself? Maybe what I was yearning for so much in wanting to be strong was not actually the ability to stop pulling out my own eyelashes. Maybe what I was yearning for so much was him.
It was both, of course. I wanted freedom from the condition, and I wanted Jesus. At times though, I think my desire for freedom from trichotillomania eclipsed my desire for Jesus. I wanted my own strength more than I wanted him.
And that’s what needed to die in me. There was a choice before me: the choice between my own strength and the strength of Christ. What I was just starting to learn was that I probably couldn’t have both. From what Paul says, the way to experience Christ’s strength is to not only acknowledge my weakness but boast in it. Boast. If that meant embracing and accepting my weakness rather than ramrodding against it every day, I had much to learn. I still do.
I am still waiting for healing, still waiting for wholeness in many areas of my life. I imagine that you are too. Whether it’s a broken body, a broken relationship, a broken heart, or a broken mind—we are all waiting in our weakness for someone bigger than we are to step in and help us.
The weaknesses that force us—perhaps it would be better to say that lead us—into waiting aren’t bad things. He can allow those weaknesses to lead us into a place of waiting where we are solely dependent upon him.
And that is a gift. The gift of weakness is that it leads us to the only strong one. And his strength is enough. Enough for this day. Enough for this life.
More than enough, actually. It is all that we need.
Ann Swindell is an author and speaker who writes regularly for CT Women, RELEVANT, Deeply Rooted, and Darling Magazine. She has also written for The Gospel Coalition and (in)courage and writes about the intersection of daily life and God's love on her website, annswindell.com.
Ann holds an MA in Writing and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and is passionate about helping other writers tell their stories powerfully. She teaches faith-based, online writing courses at writingwithgrace.com.
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Publication date: April 26, 2017