While the current pandemic shows us the weaknesses of our systems of thought and even our ideologies, we have to recognise that, paradoxically, the individual is called upon to be ever stronger. In a glaringly weak healthcare system, nurses have to be modern-day superheroes. And it’s up to each and every one of us to show that we are strong enough not to let the pandemic win. And yet, isn’t there something in weakness that can be experienced and that enables human beings to understand themselves as something other than strong or weak?
“My grace is enough for you because my power comes to fruition in weakness. It is when I am weak that I am strong », says the apostle Paul. What an idea! Who wants to be weak? Have you ever noticed that, in action films or Marvel movies, the heroes are rarely seen hungry, tired, sick, taking a break during a fight and saying:
« I can’t take it any more, I’m going to stop, I’ve got no strength left”? And if we do see them weakened, there is some point at which, as if by magic, they regain their strength to defeat the « enemy » or they are suddenly helped by a friend who arrives at the right time in the right place! Do you ever feel that you want to be like that? I do! And yet!
At a time when we are constantly striving for perfection, the psychoanalyst Jacques Arènes argues in his essay Accueillir la faiblesse (Embracing Weakness) that accepting one’s flaws is a way of strengthening our deepest self and our serenity. What if our weaknesses were the foundation on which we could build our inner happiness? Rather than running away from suffering or rejecting our limitations, why not turn our negatives into positives? For Jacques Arènes, it’s a question of « understanding our weaknesses and accepting them so that we can live our inner life, » and so gaining confidence and serenity. How?
Objective or not, weakness always leads to disillusionment: there’s nothing more difficult than knowing the reality of your physical, intellectual or moral strengths. And yet, it is through this disillusionment that we can learn to live, to make do with these constraints. « Become who you are », as Nietzsche wrote!
You have to push yourself to the limit to find out what your limits are. And that doesn’t happen without suffering! The key to living your own life is to dare to suffer within yourself and to build yourself that way. To come back to the superhero: there always comes a time in a superhero’s life when he has to confront his « demons of the past », his suffering, in order to become « stronger », more serene and, above all, to fulfil his true destiny!
Finally, when the apostle Paul tells us: « I will much more willingly put my pride in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me », isn’t he too moving in this direction? Didn’t he also go through suffering, an acceptance of his own flaws/limitations?
In this biblical passage, Paul (2 Cor 12) speaks of a prickle, a thorn in the flesh, which was given to him so that he would not become puffed up with pride. This passage has been the subject of many interpretations: people speak of infirmity, illness or failure in his ministry. But in the end, when Paul speaks of this thorn, is he not also taking the step of seeing within himself what makes him suffer, what is a flaw, what is « his weak spot »? Isn’t this an invitation to humility? To have the courage and wisdom to see what is lacking in ourselves, to accept it and also to see that we need other people so much from time to time, and why not God?
According to Antoine Nouis, in his commentary on the New Testament, Paul invites us to live our weaknesses as testimonies of grace and to be proud of them so that the power of Christ may rest on us. According to Nouis, Paul proposes, in the light of the story of David and Goliath, to have total confidence in God’s grace, and not to rely on his own strength. The power of Christ does not lie in our strength, but in the fact that we continue on the way despite our weaknesses.
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