How I Define Strength

Recently I have accompanied two close family members through the process of death to this world and life in the next. One was my mother who was 85.  She died in an ICU, and the other was my brother who was 56 and died in a hospice unit. I have been the primary care giver for both for these last few months. With my mother’s death I had to honor her wishes to not fight for her life. My brother also made that decision yet we watched him cling to life until the very last second.  Both deaths were very difficult journeys.

Through this process I kept hearing phrases like “You are so brave and strong." and " I couldn't do it.”  This really threw me because I didn't see myself as someone summoning up bravery or strength.  Instead it felt like an act of being fully immersed in life and God.  Staying in that difficult place was being a person with a belief that is lived.

Faith often takes a back seat to “the real world.”  Many see people of faith as not living in the real world. Without cultivating an inner life, difficult times can seem overwhelming and not doable.  This can cause one to feel they need to summon strength by their own might.  For those with a faith life, the pain is real yet they can be in it because during the times that weren't difficult they practiced and encouraged their inner life.  They don’t live by the illusion that life is supposed to be easy and when it isn’t something is wrong.  Those who intentionally practice their belief learn that life is both joy and pain and those are not the barometers of success or failure.  Their question is “How does this bring me into a closer relationship with God?”

It often surprises me that faith is optional. For me it is the air I breathe.  Why take the time to go through the ancient practices of the Ignatian Exercises or Benedictine spirituality or meditation?  Why encourage others to take a workshop or join a small group at Pathways of Grace?  Don’t I know that lives are busy, and that these practices take people away from important things?  I do it because in spaces like these this is where the source and meaning of life is found.  By living a life of practice and deepening relationship with God, one can walk into the most extreme joy or sorrow without hesitation.  When the goal is God, the circumstances of life lose their power to influence our actions.  Having been encouraged in faith, strength is now something that naturally flows rather than needing to be summoned.

Over this past week when people would say I am brave I would respond that I am not brave, I am just a woman who is encouraged by her belief.  The Biblical phrase to be in the world but not of it had deep meaning this week.  I have been in the depth of life, death, struggle and joy. Yet at my core where I dwelled was in the depth of God’s love, and calling to walk in places that without a life of practice and encouragement I would never have gone.

The way the world might define strength after the death of two dear loved ones as someone who quickly returns to life as normal.  That is not my definition of strength as a person of belief.  Strength is stepping away and dwelling in grief and healing.  Strength is continuing to practice deepening this walk with God. I am going to take a break from Pathways of Grace for the month of May. All groups led by other facilitators will take place.

As many of you know I love to use the word encourage.  The origins of that word mean, to make strong.  Practicing a life of relationship with God and others creates people of lived strength who do not need to summon strength because by the grace of God they are strong.  May you find many places of encouragement.