I have known many people who said they were often too anxious to do something for themselves on their own. Sometimes it’s asking a question in class, or even making a phone call to order pizza. But as soon as someone else needed the same thing done, they suddenly found the strength to accomplish whatever they couldn’t on their own.
It’s me: I’m people.
Some people call this “the mom friend override.” I call it the superhero complex. But I think God gave us this instinct to illustrate a broader truth: strength comes from love.
I notice this concept also, oddly enough, on the road.
If you’ve driven in South Carolina for any length of time, or anywhere for that matter, you are familiar with unkind driving. It’s those moments when someone cuts you off to turn left or waits until the last second to get over and avoid an accident on Wade Hampton (there’s always an accident on Wade Hampton) because they wanted to be farther along in the huge line of cars.
I started driving on my own when I moved to South Carolina, and unfortunately I fall under the temptation to be that kind of impatient driver. But the times I’ve wanted to be unkind in my driving have also been the times I was focused on me, my schedule and how important it is I get where I’m going—and as a result, I’ve almost been the accident on Wade Hampton.
If everyone drove like that all the time, the roads would be even more dangerous than they already are. There must be a few kind people on the road for all of us to get home safely.
And that thought strikes me whenever I do let that jerk into my lane, even though he waited until the last second to get over. I am doing this for my neighbor, as rude as he may be, to make sure he gets home safely. I’m doing this in the hope that others will do it for me— that I’ll get home safely.
As strange as it seems, love of my neighbor is what gives me the strength to forego road rage.
Now, when I look back on how my idea of strength has changed, I think specifically of a time I felt incredibly vulnerable.
My freshman year, I had never prayed in front of anyone, not really. I could say a passable public prayer, but I had no idea how to share what was really on my heart during prayer aloud with another person. That was too intimate.
Then one of my roommates received a phone call from her long-distance boyfriend in a bad situation, and she broke down in front of me. She needed consoling, and I had no idea how to help. So, I asked if I could pray with her.
We sat on the floor, I held her shaking hands in mine and I prayed aloud, too unprepared to be anything other than genuine. Tears fell on our clasped hands—even though I almost never cry in front of other people, especially roommates I didn’t know very well.
After I choked out an “amen,” my roommate thanked me for being strong for her. Strong? That was being soft! Hadn’t she heard the fear in my voice as I prayed? Hadn’t she sensed my shame as I cried in front of someone I barely knew?
But where I had perceived weakness, she had seen strength—2 Corinthians 12:9, am I right? Where I thought I was being soft, she saw me as strong.
Sometimes I mistake strength as something that comes from a hard place, not a soft one. I think to be tough enough to win battles, I must not let myself be affected by the emotions that come with battling. But I have found that my strength to fight for those I love, for those who have been oppressed, comes from love (Ps. 82:3). Indeed, God is love and the ultimate source of strength: the source for both is one and the same (1 John 4:16).
It is love that gives me the strength to overcome social boundaries, (Gal. 3:28) to pray for my enemies, (Luke 6:27-28) to live in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:35, Col. 3:14) and to care for myself. (Eph. 2:10, Phil. 1:6, Luke 12:7)
Now, I try to remember I serve a God who has many perfect characteristics but is love. And I try to add love to every situation, especially those in which I need strength.