Sunday, June 24, 2012

Strength and Weakness, Grace and Resistance

About a month ago, in order to participate in a retreat at work, I took the StrengthsQuest inventory by Gallup.  I think it is a very good instrument, and from what I understand, it is being used at many colleges, businesses, and organizations to emphasize what people can offer.  I appreciated it and the colleague who presented information on it (he is a trained facilitator for the inventory).  So nothing I am saying here is meant to be taken as a criticism of the test.  I like the philosophy behind him, from a human experience side.  My top five strengths were responsibility, achiever, learner, input, and belief (not in that order, though).   Not that any of that was a big surprise; what surprised me was how they framed the characteristics.  For example, belief; in other tests (the MMPI) that is a more negative trait. 

Of course, all of them have "dark sides."  Belief can make one dogmatic; responsibility can make one self-important, a workaholic, or unable to say no; learners tend to have too many interests and can't get things done.  I am seeing all those quite a bit in myself.

So, strengths can become .....weaknesses?  What exactly is the difference between a strength and a weakness?  Can a strength really be just a strong need?  I have a strength as an achiever but is that really a need to achieve, a need which may come from a deficiency, a fear? 

We used to teach in interviewing skills that if an applicant is asked to give his/her biggest strength and weakness, he/she should phrase the weakness as a strength.  "I work slowly, but it's because I'm detail-oriented."  That was considered all right for a while, but I imagine HR professionals got tired of it and found it cheesy, so then applicants were told to say, "My weakness is that I work slowly, but this is what I am doing to correct that weakness . . . " 

Is is possible that now we are just going to focus on the strengths and then let the concern about weaknesses fall by the wayside? Can we spin our wheels and waste too much time on strengthening our weaknesses?  When I give feedback to my speech students, I tell them what they are doing wrong.  That is how I was taught, but there has to be another way.  I will try tomorrow to focus on what they are doing well, what they appear to be strong in.  

Or let's look at it another way.  What really is a weakness?  What is it professionally, and what is it personally and spiritually?

Is a weakness an inability to do something?  In some contexts, it could be.  Working slowly would be a weakness in the ER, but not for an accountant.  Is is a character trait, like shyness or overtalkativeness?  (My vet would fit here, but she loves dogs and acts like mine hangs the moon, so I like her).  Is it a work ethic issues, like a tendency to lateness?  Is is a moral fault, such as lying? 

Is it, spiritually speaking, a sin with which we struggle (lust), an illness or disability, or our relationships with certain people (it could be all three, based on II Cor. 12:7-9). 

The Apostle Paul tells us that God says, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."  A strong person doesn't think he/she needs grace; God's spiritual power would meet resistance in a strong person (or one who is focused on his/her strengths).

In 1993 I had a terrible year, situationally.  I won't go into all of it, but when it was over, something like a year later, I thought, "This happened to show me how strong I was."  A few years later God showed me "WRONG!"  All that happened as a testament to his sovereignty and grace, not to my strength.  Even still, I have spent too much of my life worrying about my strengths (and wanting everyone to know about them) and also trying to hide or bolster my weaknesses.  For example, I am not an emotional person.  I feel deeply, but tears do not come easily, and I would rather help someone than comfort them, fix the problem than listen to their feelings about the problem.  Is that a weakness, a strength, neither, or just me?  I have spent a lot of time worrying about how I could become more emotional, more touchy feely.  And what good would that do?  Are empathetic people more helpful (research says no, actually)?  Do I want to be that way because people will like me more or because it will matter?

Repentance from real sin versus self-obsession with weaknesses are two different things.  I say all this because our pastor gave a wonderful sermon this morning on the II Corinthians 12 passage.  His emphasis was the weakness of the human body, which I think we should probably consider as a focus of the passage (although Paul may have been talking about opponents of his ministry).  I am tired; I am not as strong as I used to be; I beat myself up over it.  My mother may have cancer; that is real weakness. Our human bodies are amazing but they are weak, too, and in disease we fall on grace.  Why wait for disease? 

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