'Parable of the Good Samaritan' by Artist Jan Wijnants via Wikimedia Commons

When I Am Weak, then I Am Strong

Bill has six children and lives in Ohio. He works in the field of rehabilitation and vocational training as a psychotherapist. He wrote this for Traces after reading Cesana’s words on limitations.
Giovanni Cesana

It is very important to be aware of one’s limits, as Cesana says [Traces, Vol. 5, No. 8 (October 2003)]. Today I consider my physical limitations to be truly unimportant to my real essence as a child of God. When I first contracted polio at age 22, my physical limitations dominated my thinking about myself. I saw myself as unlovable. In fact, I ordered my girlfriend out of my life and to never see me again. I was so depressed that I wanted to commit suicide. My great dream then was to become a professional baseball pitcher. I had invested all of my skills, energy, and desire into my physical attributes. I was totally centered on my physique. When it was taken away from me, the loss led to dark despondency.

As I look back, several occurrences brought me out of my depression. The first was that I learned how to cope with my physical limits in a safe haven–a rehabilitation center in Georgia. Secondly, the physical therapists not only taught me how to be as physically independent as possible, they encouraged me to begin to think about my “comparative assets.” That is, what were my other gifts and talents? With their help, I began to center on my thinking ability as a gifted asset. The third experience was without a doubt God-driven. When I returned home from rehabilitation in Georgia, I did not want to leave the house. Many of my friends avoided me because of the fear of seeing the “new me,” who walked like Frankenstein with crutches. But God nudged the brother of a friend of mine to come and see me. I knew him only casually. He started coming to my house. At first I told my grandfather to tell him I was busy or that I wasn't feeling well. He persisted. Finally, we began playing cards, then arm-wrestled one another. With time, he enticed me and I finally got up enough courage to go out of the house.

Often the people who have had the most profound impact on my spiritual growth have come into and out of my life for brief periods of time. They have been people who have touched my heart with their humanity and by the Spirit at work in them. My friend's brother is an excellent example. Fr John was another example. A stranger I met at a bar or saloon was another example: I never knew his name yet he was the person who encouraged me to look into a career as a counselor. We never know who that person might be that God brings into our lives to touch our hearts and wake us up to the reality of God's love and plan for us.

Happiness is not dependent on being loved by one’s parents. Loving kindness can come from anyone. It contributes to acceptance of oneself by the receiver, which in turn can lead to a sense of inner peace within the person. To me, inner peace means using the gifts God has given me and accepting that without God I am nothing. This condition rings true from St Paul's wonderful acknowledgement that “when I am weak I am strong.” God is my strength in the face of my limitations and the temptations of the world. Our society tempts us “to be all that we can be” and “you can only go around once in life, so go for the gusto.” The inference is that there is no life after death.

At that wonderful meeting presided by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1998, John Paul honored Fr Giussani. Among others he honored Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche. People who are genuine caregivers become quickly aware of two human conditions: that each of us is broken in some way and that each human being, no matter how severe or what their impairment might be, is unique and sacred. Each of us is open to the workings and gifts of the Spirit regardless of that person's level of intelligence, education, and social status.

I have learned so much from people who I outmatch in intelligence and education but who have greater hearts than I have. I give them thanks and to God for leading them into my life. Their weakness helped me to welcome my weakness. Their gifts helped me to value my gifts. As Jesus told Paul, “My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” Paul responded, “So I am very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast, so that the power of Christ may stay over me.…”