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I think sometimes we assume we’re strong, when we’re really just arrogant.

A few weeks ago, I got in a fight with my husband, and the more I raged, the stronger I felt. How dare you disagree with me! How dare you speak into my life like that! It felt powerful to “stand up for myself,” to give full vent to my anger. But later as I sat with God, I realized all that bravado was really just pride.

Pride is so good at masquerading as strength. It tells us we’re strong when we fight to have the last word. When we make fun of our enemies. When we refuse to be wrong – refuse to listen or look inward. But a spirit like that isn’t strong. It’s brittle. And here’s the great irony: Brittle spirits are hard and weak at the same time.

Like all things brittle, they’re liable to shatter in an instant. To snap on social media and eviscerate their opponents (and their own reputation). To lose the things they love because they’re addicted to power or success. To damage the next generation because they refuse to deal with their own brokenness. To scream at their spouse because they hate hearing the truth. 

The True Test of Strength

In contrast, the dictionary defines strength as “the capacity to withstand great force or pressure.” A few weeks ago my daughter walked into my bedroom holding a hardboiled egg. Instead of peeling the shell off, she was trying to crush it in her fist. (Just for fun, I guess?) “Look at this, Mom!” She said, squeezing it as hard as she could. “It won’t break!”

“Give that thing to me,” I said. Confident of my ability to crush it, I held it over the sink. 

Of course everyone had to try. None of us – not even my husband, who regularly hits the gym – could break the shell of that hardboiled egg in one fist. Before you race off to boil a pot of water, hear me out!

When life squeezes you, can you withstand the pressure? That’s strength in the truest sense of the word. When the kids are fighting, the bills mounting, the deadlines looming – what kind of person do you become? When you’re triggered, tired, pressured – how do you react?

Just like that little egg, the measure of a person’s strength may surprise you. Over the years I’ve watched seemingly “fragile” people being squeezed by suffering. Some of them were elderly and physically weak, some had lifelong disabilities or chronic illnesses. These people were squeezed, in some cases all the way to death, and even then, they refused to break. They died praising Jesus, their legacies indomitable.

How to Become Stronger

One such woman met with my husband and I shortly before dying to discuss her funeral. How would you want your entire life summarized after you’re gone? This is what she said: “Don’t tell people I was perfect. Don’t say I never complained, because I complain. Don’t say I never was sad, because I had many sad moments.” She went on to point out that she experienced many failures and wasn’t always a great wife, mom, or friend.

Despite being a hero of the faith, who joyfully endured an agonizing battle with cancer, these were the things she wanted highlighted at her funeral: inadequacy, failure, insufficiency. Then she said something profound: “People think that what I am is ‘strong.’ But that was never me. That was always God in me.”

The strongest people – the ones able to withstand harrowing pressure – are the ones who recognize their weakness, who fully depend on strength outside themselves (2 Corinthians 12:10). This is the birthright of every child of God – access to supernatural strength, which enables us to be “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Whose strength are you trusting?

As we begin our fourth and final series in the book of Romans at Grace, Paul will teach us How to Be Strong. My guess is, sometimes we’ll dislike what Paul has to say. It will wage war with the pride that’s so comfortably at home in our hearts. But, if we humbly receive the implanted Word of God, it will save and transform us (James 1:21). And like my friend, one day – perhaps with our final words – we will testify that the strength was never ours.

It was always God in us. 

Join us online or in-person to learn more about How to Be Strong, a 6-week series at Grace.

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