Friday, September 17, 2010

Paradox: Strength in Weakness

One of my professors stated this week: "Paradox is holy ground." I guess that's true for psychology and theology (which are apparently my two areas of interest... right now, anyway:).

In the same class we were talking about Internal Family Systems (IFS) theory, and part of our homework assignment this week is to try to identify our "parts". (To briefly explain: IFS has concepts of an internal system, similar to an external system such as a family or church, in each person. So a person has different "parts" and also a "self" which is, ideally, able to interact with the different "parts" - especially when they get in the way or cause problems. Parts can be things like fear, anger, obsessions/compulsions, coping/controlling mechanisms, etc.)

So I did what any conscientious, first-year, overly-stressed, exhausted grad student would do: On my lunch break, I found a couch in a secluded area, lay down to rest, and wrestled with my different "parts." (We were especially encouraged to pay attention to "bodily sense" when locating parts... so it was fortunate that I had plenty of aches and pains to identify, and question what "parts" of me they were representing.)

Heeding the advice of my wise classmate Andy, I also invited Jesus to interact with me and my parts. (I don't know about anyone reading this, but as I'm writing this, and even at the time when I was doing it, this is about the time when I start feeling kind of silly. I'm talking to my parts? Jesus is in the room talking with us, too? Um, ok...)

I'm really glad I did this.

First of all, it was a very relaxing time and made the rest of my day a thousand times better. I didn't get too terribly far with the homework aspect, but I did identify some parts of myself that were hurting or stressed, and focusing on those helped me deal with some underlying causes.

Also, I started contemplating this ongoing struggle I have with being over-burdened out of good intentions. (I.e., I am so eager to love and serve God and other people, that I feel the responsibility of helping everyone and wish I could fix everything in the world. And that gets pretty discouraging.)

I thought of two scripture verses that I would consider quite significant:
The verse when Jesus says "Anyone who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." And the verse when he says, "Come to me all you who are weary... and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart... for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

These verses create a paradox: To truly follow Christ means to be self-sacrificing and to endure some pretty difficult stuff (I don't think he meant the word "cross" in merely a symbolic way)... yet, Christ promises that sharing His burden will be easy (because, of course,
he is the other one in the yoke).

So I wondered to myself, in the quiet of the room and in the midst of all my parts and in the awareness of Christ's presence with me in the moment, how can I live in this paradox? How can I be willing to take whatever comes in the way of following Christ, and yet follow him easily and be at rest in his presence? Because that is my problem - I get caught up in the burden and in denying myself and forget to rest (or find it difficult or seemingly impossible to rest).

Then I noticed which words in the verses I was focusing on. I was focusing on the
cross - yes, I know, it will be difficult! it will require sacrifice! I am willing, even though I probably won't like it! - and I was focusing on the burden - is it really light? what kind of yoke is attaching me to Christ and to his burden?

I decided to try focusing on different phrases: "Follow me" and "come to me" and "learn from me." And that is when I thought, "My professor is right. This is holy ground."

Somehow, when we are following Christ for the sake of Christ, when we come to him just to be with him, and when we're willing to learn from him because of who he is... we end up denying ourselves and carrying crosses and yet finding the burden easy and finding rest for our souls.

A very personal example of this is the past week of my life. I have felt more weakness and weariness in this time than ever before in my life - and I have been more joyful and more determined to keep following Christ. I have found this particular kind of strength only in recognition of my deep need, and in relying and depending completely on him to literally get me through each moment of each day.

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:10)