The practice of Lent has been a newer experience for me. The emphasis in my evangelical church was always on grace and “Resurrection Sunday”. Penitence had a very bad rap. However, the more I learned about Lent, the more I began to see that growth can occur and even a spiritual clarity through the practice of restricting oneself from things. The things that we abstain from are not inherently bad. Sugar, alcohol, meat, and social media all have their place in the celebration and enjoyment of life. When abused however, they can become controlling and unhealthy not only to ourselves, but others as well. In the giving up of these things that we take pleasure in, we oft come face to face with our weaknesses. Anyone that has suffered from sugar withdrawals knows what I’m talking about.
When I think of the meaning of this word, weakness, I think of the inability to perform or to carry a heavy load, a fragility and a tendency to break down. As a Christian, this makes my stomach churn. Like a movie, immediately what comes to mind is all the times I’ve been told in the church that this is my identity as a woman. Prone to being overly emotional, erratic, limited, inferior, delicate and manipulative. This teaching of weakness in the church has been used to silence and suppress many. I felt shame every time I experienced a strong emotion, spoke ‘out of turn’ or disagreed with men in leadership.
When feeling triggered, I turn to Jesus and his radical example in scripture, hoping to redeem this word, weakness. In John 13:3-16 we see what this looks like:
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Before posturing himself in service, we are reminded of Jesus’ power and his identity. Evelyn Underhill recognizes the beauty in this in her piece, The Divine Condescension when she writes:
“And indeed it is above all when we see a human spirit, knowing its own power, choose the path of sacrifice instead of the path of ambition: when we see human courage and generosity blazing out on the heroic levels in the shadow of death; the human agony and utter self-surrender of Gethsemane, the accepted desolation of the Cross, that we recognize a love and holiness which point beyond the world.”
Jesus is showing us something here about weakness by first calling attention to power. Power and the ways it is demonstrated in the world we live today is repugnant. It is self-serving, exploitative and brash. It seeks to control, separate, and ostracize ‘the other’. The power Jesus demonstrated is in such a stark contrast as it served ‘the other’, was redemptive, exalted the voices silenced by societal structures, brought people together and provided a place of belonging. It was a power marked by surrender.
So, it is during this Lenten season, I find that the weakness I am faced with is not actually the one that historically has been imposed upon me. I reject that misguided teaching within the church. In fact, the weakness I have come face to face with is the tendency to use my own power and privilege for self-interest, self-protection, self-soothing, self-loathing, and self-serving. Instead I am challenged to first recognize the power and privilege I hold in this world, and to strategically lay it down on behalf of the many others that are marginalized, alienated, discriminated against, and even silenced. This is what I am practicing and still learning and I hope that other Christians who hold differing forms of power and privilege will follow Jesus’ lead and do the same.
Anna Tesch has been married for 16 years, is the mother of three in betweeners, a daughter to supportive parents, a sister, an aunt, and a friend. She works for her local school district, volunteers in an organization providing food for low income students, cooks while listening to records, cuddles babies in her church and writes as a recovering evangelical. She is developing her skills as a photographer and a mixed media artist.
You can find some of her work here and follow her on twitter @AnnaBreeT.