Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
You may be old enough to remember newspaper ads from an earlier generation with the script: “I was a 97-pound weakling, but then I found the Charles Atlas Bodybuilding Course, and look at me now.”
We don’t hear a lot about this now, although let me say there is nothing wrong with body building. But it opens up this huge topic of strength versus weakness. It’s like look at me—I’m stronger than you. It’s like saying weakness—being a weakling—is to be avoided at all cost.
Strength and weakness usually refer to your personality. The word generally has a negative sound to it—and who wants to be known as a weakling? And how do you define it anyway? You could say my friend has a weakness for chocolate—but I’m not referring to that really.
Is There Any Virtue In Weakness?
Let me tell you a true story of a young man named Max Cleland who was in his early 20s when he volunteered for duty in Vietnam. One month from the end of his tour, he found himself in the Battle of Khe Sanh. Once he had to jump out of a helicopter and saw a grenade at his feet. Thinking it had fallen off his own gear, he reached to pick it up. There was a blinding explosion.
He was taken by chopper to a surgical hospital 64 kilometres away. He should have been dead. His right arm and both legs were gone. He had a shrapnel wound in his windpipe. He clung to life by sheer willpower. For the next 18 months he was in and out of hospitals. He was assured that he would never walk again.
Max was glad to be alive but glad of little else. He recalls the worst moment for him. It was when a former girlfriend had come to see him and have lunch. Approaching a crossing, Max pitched forward out of his wheelchair and into the gutter:
I flailed helplessly like a fish out of water, lying in the dirt and cigarette butts. Two men rushed up and lifted me back into the wheelchair. My companion was almost hysterical, crying over and over, “I’m sorry, Max! I’m sorry!” The shame and embarrassment of the spill seared me like a burn that continued to throb.
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I couldn’t forget the first time I met her. I was twenty-four, and I stood six-feet-two-inches tall. Now I was in a wheelchair. I thought, “Is this all that’s left for me—to be hauled around like a sack of potatoes for the rest of my life? No! I’m not always going to be helpless. I will need a lot of help from God, family and friends, but I’m going to make a difference in this world.
Out Of Extreme Weakness Comes Strength
Max returned to his hometown of Lithonia, Georgia, learned to walk with artificial limbs, learned to drive by adapting his car and set up his own apartment to live independently. In 1970 he ran successfully for the Georgia State Senate, in 1977 he was named head of the Veterans’ Administration and in 1996 became a United States senator from Georgia. Out of extreme weakness comes strength.
It has been said that each of us is handicapped. For some of us the handicaps are obvious—Max Cleland without legs, arm, in a wheelchair. We can readily see those handicapped with blindness, with deformities, with debilitating illnesses, with mental and emotional deficits.
We cannot so readily see those who are wracked by worry, who cover their pain, who look good on the outside but are nevertheless disabled within. Many of us have disabilities that others cannot see. If we were honest, most of us are the ‘walking wounded’.
(To be continued in Weakness is Strength – Part 2)