For most of my young life, I lived in a way that required physical strength. I did things that both required strength and built strength. I didn’t have to think about it, I wanted to lift or push a thing, I could almost always do it.
Then when I was 20, I had my first back operation. Rugby stopped. Muscles were still there, and they were as strong as before, I just had to be a little more careful. I was still strong.
Fast forward through 20 odd years, with other blips and back operations along the way, and I was still strong. All I had to be was careful.
And then stop.
Lying in a hospital bed, in the full initial flare of a rare autoimmune condition called Pityriasis Rubra Pilaris. I was 100% inflamed, and shedding skin. The consultants were perplexed and I didn’t know what to do.
Life stopped. I was in bed for almost a year.
As I slowly started and changed medications, my situation improved. I got out and about but needed a wheelchair. It became obvious to me that I had lost my hair, strength, and the ability to shove heavy things if I needed to.
It would be easy to say lights flashed and I realised that my strength wasn’t physical, it was with God all along. But I can’t.
At that stage, and still in the middle of this condition, I could glibly say, “My strength is found in Jesus.” It would be easy to leave it at that. But that isn’t a helpful answer in the complexity or real emotions and frustration of life.
And what does a trite answer like that mean when held alongside the strength mentioned by Jesus when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
A life of faith and service isn’t about simple points that can be written in a line or two; it is so much richer than that. Everyone has experienced loss of strength. It could be loss of physical strength, but it could be so much more – loss of the strength of voice, or concentration; of eyesight or hearing; it could be that we’ve lost the strength given to us by a loved one, now departed. It could be one or more of so many different things.
Given that we are called by Jesus in those simple, but not easy, words from Mark to, ‘Love God… with all our strength’, what does this mean when strength changes between people and between days.
To be strong, in any way, and use that strength for God is a wonderful thing. But, when we find our own strength diminished, as individuals and even as a church, those words can ring painfully in our ears. Love God with all your strength… love with all your strength.
What is it to love with all your strength?
I am not sure that I can tell what my answer will be for tomorrow, nor the easy answer we all crave.
But I fear the answer is as infuriatingly simple as it is difficult. Loving God with all our strength, when faced with a changing body and mind over years, months weeks and days, is about what can I do today.
Where does my strength lie today, and how can I use that to echo God’s love?
Some days it might be changing the world, but sometimes it might simply be changing what we think of as our strengths.