(the flipside of) Your Greatest Strength (or weakness)

[I wrote this article for Come Away – a uniquely African digital platform for Christian women.]

Years ago a friend shared an idea that God had been evolving through her experiences. It might not be brand new to you, but at that time, it was to me.

She said:

Your greatest strengths can so quickly – too easily – become your greatest weaknesses.

The paradox deceives us. We think that our weaknesses are opposite to our strengths. So we think that our weaknesses are our greatest weakness.  

But they’re not.

We know our weaknesses. (Mostly.) It’s obvious when we suck at something. And so when it comes to our weaknesses we operate in humility. We graciously avoid – apologise – defer. It can be quite beautiful to be bad at something. It gives us a chance to celebrate someone else. Point the glory away from ourselves without being false or self-deprecating.

It’s our strengths that make us dangerous.

Dangerous to the enemy if we play them right. Dangerous to ourselves and others and the Kingdom if we don’t. Our real weaknesses – our blind spots that have us pushing on oblivious and self-assured – are our over-developed strengths. Which means, the incredible, city-set-on-a-hill things about you that draw people to Jesus can be just the things that push people away.

We all suffer from some kind of Double-Edged Personality-Strength Disorder.

Like, maybe you’re that confident-decisive-energetic woman. A go-getter with clear ideas. You sweep people up and away. With you they’ll go places. Wow, you’re so attractive. Except when you’re forceful. Domineering. Opinionated. Then you’re so not.

Maybe you’re that caring-kind-sensitive girl. Always concerned. You feel things hard and you would climb skyscrapers to help people. You’re so beautiful. Except when you’re over-sensitive. And when you ask too many questions because you just don’t know when to dial down the intensity and give people some space. Then, girl, you are such high maintenance.

Get the idea?

Maybe you’re quiet-analytical teetering on morose-critical.

Maybe you splash about your contagious and well-meaning passion so much sometimes that it leaves stains of over-zealousness on people’s carpets and they don’t invite you back.

Maybe your biggest relationship conflicts have been because your strengths – or the other person’s – overrode good intentions. Maybe the things you loved most about that person – or that they loved about you – became the very things that drove you apart.

Kingdoms collapse when rulers overshoot their strengths. Companies liquidate. Marriages crumble. Churches split. Friendships cool.

Look at Samson. If he could’ve had his life over, I wonder if he’d have chosen rather to be weak. Maybe if he hadn’t been so strong, he wouldn’t have succumbed to the sludge of arrogance and cheap women. Maybe his eyes wouldn’t have been gouged out. Maybe he wouldn’t have died suicide-bomber style with a temple on his head.

God had Samson on a journey, and I know that somehow God took His glory from Samson’s life despite the fact that Samson didn’t manage his strength as well as he might have. But I can’t help reading his story and thinking, What a waste.

So how do we enjoy our strengths – live them out unapologetically and for God’s glory – without allowing them to become liabilities?

mountain shadow sun

Know what waits on the other side.

If you are good at being dynamic and decisive, know that you might also be good at being impetuous and impatient. If you are good at self-sacrifice, know that you are probably also good at playing the poor-me martyr.

Surrender your agenda and your ego.

It’s like, a dam is a massive body of water. Everyone can see that. (FYI: In the dam analogy, you’re the dam.) The dam doesn’t need to prove how much water it has by every day opening the sluice gates and destroying all forms of life in the valley below (with its life-giving water).

There might come a time when a massive show of strength is necessary. Then for sure the dam should create a magnificent deluge without apology. But day to day, the dam should look at the crops in the valley. Listen to the people. Decide just how wide to open the sluice gates. Some days there’s just a trickle of water down the wall. Some days there’s a steady stream. And on very thirsty days, the people know where to go.

Also, the dam has no reason to boast about its water. Because, ‘What do you have that God hasn’t given you?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7)

I find this stuff so overwhelming, because I’m terrified I don’t see it in myself. I pray for you, friend, and I pray for me, that we would look with Holy Spirit eyes. Listen with Holy Spirit ears. Decide in faith. Then go with the strength we have, because the God of peace and power is sending us (Judges 6:14, 22-24).

. . .

Have a fantastic weekend, friend!

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