You’re Stronger Than You Think
Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
― A.A. Milne
During my sabbatical I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary for a pastor’s sabbatical. I decided to focus on physical health…because ministry is demanding. It’s demanding spiritually, emotionally and physically. And our tendency in ministry (and not unjustly so) is to focus so much on our spiritual and emotional health, that we ignore our physical health. Reading, writing, listening, meeting are all very sedentary activities, and we convince ourselves that we are far too busy prepping for lessons and sermons and budget meetings and vision teams to waste time worrying about the state of our earthly bodies.
I decided that if I’m going to make it through my next seven years of ministry, I need to be to in better shape. Eat better. Feel better. Be (literally) stronger. I signed up to work with a trainer who was recommended to me. She’s a military wife and a mother to four boys, so I figure she knows a little about strength and endurance. We work online and via phone. I have a set of workouts to do each week and check in through an app called Trainerize.
And while I’m not making the cover of women’s health magazine anytime soon (maybe by the time I’m 50), I’m stronger than I was when I left. I have muscles in places I didn’t know there were muscles. I have traps, who knew? And changes in my diet, coupled with more intense exercise, seems to having a good effect on how I feel. I actually started the program at a reduced level back in February and for the first time in my ministry at this church, I made it through Holy Week (and my final week before sabbatical) without steroids and antibiotics for a sinus/ear infection. I’ve also committed to a full year of the training, so the idea is that I keep getting stronger and healthier even while being back at work.
For those not familiar with strength training, one of the basic rulesis that you do three to four sets of a specific number of repetitions (or reps) of each exercise. For example, you might do three sets of 12 bicep curls. Ideally, by the time you get to the last few reps of the last set, your muscles should be completely fatigued. Like maybe you can’t even finish the last couple of reps. If you finish that third set easily, you probably need some heavier weights.
One thing I learned pretty early on in my training is that I could lift more weight than I thought I could. I have to admit being a bit timid about the whole thing at first. Often in the part of my gym where all the weights are, I was the only woman. I could almost hear all the guys around me saying, “What is that chubby middle aged woman doing here?” So I was cautious. I didn’t want to look any sillier than I already felt. So I stuck with what I knew I could do. But then I realized that I was really underestimating my own strength…and I started upping the weights.
Today, I’ll go beyond what I think I can do. Sometimes, I go too far and realize that no…I’m not quite that strong. But more often than not, I realize that I’ve underestimated myself. I’m stronger than I think I am.
I think that’s true for all of us…and we need to be reminded. We’re stronger than we think we are. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we can add 10 more items to our to do list, or take on three additional projects or say yes to one more obligation to our lives because we’re strong enough to make it all happen. No, we don’t need to be reminded that we can do more. We need to be reminded that we are more. That we are capable of more. That we are created in the image of a mighty God. That we are stronger than we think and so is our God.
The people that Isaiah is talking in our scripture today need to be reminded of how strong they are. While there is some debate about just who is talking in this second part of Isaiah and who is being talked to, most scholars agree that it was written to comfort the Jews who had been taken into exile in Babylon. They had been there for around 150 years and many were about to be allowed to return home. But after so many years, “home” was only something they had heard about in stories or songs. So an entire population of people who had been basically been raised in captivity were about to return to a home they had never known. There must have been excitement, but it was probably overshadowed by the uncertainty and the fear of what they would find when they arrived…of what it would look like to live as free people in their homeland. The prophet is reminding them that they are stronger than they think, and that strength is found in a God who is always with them.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The God Who lives forever is the Lord, the One Who made the ends of the earth. Got gives strength to the weak and gives power to you even when you get tired and clumsy. Even when you feel all strength is gone. But if you’ll just trust in the Lord. If you can wait on the Lord, you WILL get new strength. You will rise up. You will run and not wear out. You will walk and not fall out.
In other words, you are stronger than you think. Or to borrow Christopher Robin’s words, you are braver than you know, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.
We can certainly stand to hear the words of Isaiah (and of A.A. Milne) today. In a world where violence and hate and fear seem to rule the day, you could use a reminder about just how strong and brave and smart you are.
You are brave enough not to sit on the sidelines and remain silent in the face of injustice. You are brave enough to take a stand and raise your voice.
You are strong enough not to return hate for hate and violence for violence.
You are smart enough not to blame an entire religion or ethnic group for the radical actions of a few.
You are brave enough to admit your own complicity in the problems facing our world today and strong enough to love those who are not yet blessed with such self-awareness.
You are smart enough to know that even when other people’s hurt is not your hurt, their pain is still very real.
You are strong enough to hold on to hope and not be dragged down by despair.
In a world where we have become numb to violence and almost nonchalant to the news of more people killed…in Nice, in Istanbul, in wherever the next place will be (the news of the police in Baton Rouge cam through during our service today). In a world that seems to be under attack from all the isms and the phobias—racism and xenophobia, terrorism and Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia–do not be dismayed. Have you not heard? Have you not known? You are stronger than you think. And the One who created you and loves you is stronger than anything you will ever encounter, including all the hate and fear this world can stir up.
You are stronger than you think and so is your God. You have been reminded. Now go and live like people who believe it.