By the time I was 20, I had an enviable skillset for ministry: I could sing and speak in front of crowds, mentor younger girls, write with passion, and lead Bible studies. I wielded a personal holiness that impressed even senior saints. I was vigilant in daily Bible study and sought to cross my t’s and dot my i’s in order to please God. After all, He’d saved me from my sin—now I owed Him an exemplary life.
I was admired, respected, and told I would do great things for God.
I held my breath, ready to take on the world. First would come marriage, then a celebrated move overseas into missions work. Children would soon follow, and as a family we would change our foreign corner of the world for Christ.
But, as I’ve written about before, bouts with deep depression and life-altering disappointments began chipping away at my larger-than-life dreams, and my perfect exterior and self-assured interior quaked.
Simultaneously, I began to experience what it meant to be raw and real with a handful of close friends who were also on a similar journey. For a girl whose heart beat perfectionism, letting others in on my mess was a messy process.
The untouchable pie-in-the-sky Colleen was getting down and dirty.
And slowly, oh-so-slowly, I began to understand that my dreams and my strengths were not the best formula for dynamic ministry. As counter-intuitive as it seemed, I saw that my weakness and ugliness were where I encountered the beauty of God. In fact, it was my brokenness that helped me experience unspeakable depths of His love—and compelled me to love Him back.
I wish I could say that I figured it all out in my twenties, that I wrapped my arms around weakness and mastered the art of humility and trust by the time I turned thirty. But the truth is, life is more cyclical than linear, and a decade later I continue to revisit these same lessons, again and again. As I turn 39 this month, I’m still an ambitious Type-A perfectionist and performer at heart, ever as much in need of my Jesus.
But didn’t the psalmist promise we would go “from strength to strength till we appear before God”? Isn’t He conforming us more and more to the image of His Son? Aren’t we commanded to use our gifts to serve others? Why then is my life characterized by so much weakness and failure?
Failure. It’s a word that makes me quiver to my core. I hate failing. I hate coming up short, lagging behind, and being considered mediocre.
I want to lead by example, set the pace, and maintain a perfect track record. I want to climb that escalator of progress so others can look up to me and say, “Wow. What a godly woman! That’s who I want to be like.”
But this is pride and idolatry at its finest, no? God cannot abide our worship of any other gods, even if they come in the appealing form of fellow believers. So He gives us cracks and crevices that leak out need and disorder of every kind.
Think about the biblical accounts of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Jonah, Mary, Timothy, Paul, and every other individual recorded in the Bible who God used mightily. Due to their frailties and failures, they should have been hopelessly disqualified from God’s work.
Instead, we read that out of their mess, He wrought miracles. Nothing thwarts His purposes. As we surrender our weaknesses and have-nots to an all-powerful God, whose Spirit lives in us, we know true Strength.
Psalm 84 says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in You. As they go through the valley … they make it a place of springs. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God…”
Our weakness is a divine invitation to experience His strength. Our failure is an opportunity to return (again and again) to His gospel.
And when we return to His gospel—to the cross and the empty tomb—we point others to Jesus, we brag on Him, not ourselves.
The Apostle Peter instructs us, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”
Let me give you a real-life example. My motherhood is pockmarked with shortcomings and failure. I am often impatient. I prioritize tasks over time with my son. I compare myself with others who seem to be doing it better than I, and I worry. I grumble about the constant messes and needs and interruptions (oh, the interruptions!). But whenever I mutter even the simplest prayer (“Help!”), God always shows up. He gives me wisdom right when I need it. He gives me endurance to weather the hardest weeks. He gives me humility to ask my son for forgiveness when I fail him. He gives me grace to watch my son suffer chronic illness that’s out of my control.
In fact, many times He makes this motherhood thing downright enjoyable, even fun.
Dear One, my weaknesses are not going away. But the difference is (and it’s all the difference in the world)—I know and love Jesus better now than I did thirty years ago. I’ve tested and tried Him and found Him true. He is who He says He is. He does what He promises to do. He is faithful.
As I put my son to bed at night, I often ask him, “What do I want you to never, ever forget?”
And in his little chirping 3-year-old voice he says (with all the faith of a child): “That God loves me, and He is always with me!”
In the midst of great weakness, I can say with confidence, “God loves me, and He is always with me.”
And that, Dear One, is my Strength.
This article also appears on TrueWoman.com.