One of St. Paul’s most frustrating assertions is contained in this week’s second reading: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul struggled with this too, begging God to take his weakness and struggles away from him.
I find it humbling, and often physically repulsive, to be the first to apologize after an argument. I am getting better at admitting my own failings, but I still wrestle inside myself with blame and arrogance. Surely someone else started it and they should apologize first!
This happens most frequently with my husband, because I love him the most and spend the most time with him. I get in a bad mood about something, start cleaning to cope, and then start keeping score of who has done what around the house. He walks in totally oblivious to my mood and my score keeping, sets his stuff on a counter I just cleaned and I start an argument about something totally unrelated. How often I have begged God to take away my grouchiness, inspire me to nap instead of clean when I’m in a bad mood and remove my ability to keep score. So far, no luck. In the silence that follows the argument, I feel the heat in my face and my heartbeat slow to normal and I look straight into the eye of my own weakness. Pause.
The first reading is from Ezekiel, and it is God’s instruction that he is to speak the words given to him whether or not the people listen to him. The result, God promises, is that, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a Prophet among them.”
My brother has a dog, a big, playful puppy who is still learning how to belong in their family. Otto knows what the rules are but he still needs to test them. When he takes off before the leash gets on or barks at our kids, he knows he’s done something wrong. When my brother gets after him, Otto turns his face away and then, in time, he turns back and looks up at my brother from below, with big, sad, puppy dog eyes. He may not listen next time, but he knows that he’s been caught. And it is impossible not to love those eyes.
My kids, like Otto and the rebellious house of Israel, have those same eyes in weakness. They peer up at me from behind their tears or anger and beg to be loved. When they have intentionally used my favourite lipstick as face paint crushing it into an unusable mess or spoken searing words of hurt, the moments after the timeout are some of the most powerful in our home. They feel themselves small, having hurt instead of loved, responsible for pain but not knowing how to fix it. And in their vulnerability, they look to Marc and I for both mercy and justice.
When Jesus returns to his hometown, the people are not prepared for his message. They know him as the kid that skinned his knees playing, the son of a carpenter, a guy who has always seemed to have answers to questions they did not ask. They cannot see who he has become. His power is weakened by their disbelief and doubting. It is not the first or the only time that people are not expecting his weakness. In the manger and on the cross, people choose not to follow this vulnerable King of Kings. They refuse the power in his weakness. And he is amazed by their unbelief. Perhaps he is the only person in human history who is amazed by it. My unbelief is overwhelming when I need to trust that weakness is my strength.
The Psalmist writes that, “Our eyes look to the Lord, until he has mercy on us.” Un-pause. In the silence after an argument with Marc, I have learned the only powerful solution that actually restores peace is to accept my weakness and look on him until he accepts it too. God’s power is made perfect in my weakness. I do not win the fight. I do not get to continue on in self-righteousness. I do not get to lay claim to perfection while I cast blame on my partner and greatest human love. But, in my weakness, I get the power of being loved as I am.
When we face our weakness, our eyes unleash the mercy and compassion of God. They are a window into our need for each other, a glimpse into our capacity to bless most profoundly from small and insignificant places. God’s power is not like the power of the world, thundering and forceful and demanding. God’s power is in the irresistible eyes of someone who has asked for forgiveness, and in the softened eyes of the one who grants it. I am the most powerful agent of God’s grace not when I get it all right, but when I realize I have gotten it all wrong and I look to him, and to Marc, to be loved.
Perrault is the director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Saskatoon. She is co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating. She and her husband, Marc, are the parents of three young children.