The Power of Paradox

For Good Friday, we post the tenth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series written by Kelly Tobin. Ms. Tobin is a mother and a disability advocate who lives in Denver. She occasionally takes to the stage to share her story as an individual born with anomalies affecting all four limbs. Kelly also lives with the sequelae of a Traumatic Brain Injury.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor 12:9 – 10; NIV)

At the height of my life of thievery, at age 42, I stole a junior-sized hospital gown. I recognized a startling comfort as I eyed it and stuffed it stealthily into my duffel bag. Not only did it sport my favorite colors, but it fit my petite body just right. Fifteen surgeries in, it was about time! On this particular occasion, I’d undergone my fourth amputation. Such procedures had always involved elements of trauma and “unbearable” pain. Somehow, that gown spoke otherwise.

Heading into surgeries, we hold in view the desired outcome. God doesn’t always give us a reason for our suffering, however. We all come to know a Good Friday of our own, or several of them — days or years dominated by physical pain or perhaps iterations of betrayal,  blame, public humiliation, fear, loneliness, abandonment, loss, grief, utter brokenness. Even our anger and hatred eat away not at our enemies’ well-being, but ultimately our own. Where do we turn? To what can we cling? What’s “good” about Good Friday, the day that Christ feels his Father turn away and Jesus comes to know ultimate betrayal? Herein we begin to discover the Gospel’s paradox of weakness and strength, a truth as perplexing as it is comforting.

While God may not give us a reason for our sufferings, he has given us a reason for his suffering. Not only can we identify with his struggles, but perhaps more importantly, we can know that he identifies with ours.  Hold in view that he chose to live as a man, to suffer profoundly in body and in spirit. Can we release demands for explanations for our suffering and instead breathe into God’s response delivered in a person?  In Christ, after all, God endows us with that which we crave most deeply– companionship, a loving presence, full understanding of the depth of our hearts.

When we unite our suffering with that of Jesus, our own suffering becomes engendered with hope, pregnant with expectation.  When we feel victimized and helpless, Jesus’ own story can nudge us back toward comfort, connection, trust, and hope. God contains us as we wrestle with Him. And as we learn to receive this grace and comfort, life springs forth from death. Our figurative crucifixion becomes imbued with the meaning and hope of a consistent, sacrificial love.

“Why did I steal that hospital gown?,” I ask myself 5 years post-theft. I discover, as I hold it, that it represents to me the me who I’ve come to know and treasure through suffering, the multi-dimensional me who has stopped looking for linear responses and logical answers. We benefit from focusing not on the concrete, but on the subtle process of growth by which we slowly learn to give and receive love.  Step with me into a mystery solved not by an end, but by the means of a sacrificial love.

Prayer:  Heavenly Lord made flesh, comfort us with your love perfected, a love that we do not fully know on this earth. When darkness and betrayal close in, grant assurance that you’ve not abandoned us. Strengthen us in our suffering so that we may embrace death, and in doing so, that we may come closer to knowing the power of our own resurrections in yours.