Four Myths About “Inner Strength”
Being a "strong person" is not what you think
I knew a man who had a temper problem all his life. Yet, he could mostly keep it under wraps. As a middle aged adult, he could eat his Wheaties, show up in a suit, and impress the clientele.
Yet, he was an undercover land mine. Those who knew him well, found themselves always on tender hooks.
As he aged, he began losing his grip. He lost his inhibitions, his ability to fake it. His barely concealed fury gained the upper hand. He no longer had the strength to hold it together. He proved that the strength he once had—the strength to hold his peace—was not really strength at all.
Why do some people collapse in tough times and others only rise all the more?
Today perhaps more than ever, there is a lot of confusion about what it means to be a “strong person.” It might be more helpful to look, first, at what it does not mean.
Four things come to mind:
1. It’s not physical strength, talent, or giftedness.
We might all instinctively believe this. Yet, appearances can be deceiving.
Having worked in schools for many years, my husband has often noticed that things just come easily for some students. Athletic prowess, good grades, effortless wit, and social ease seem to to just drop from heaven for certain kids. We might feel tempted to look at these outward indicators and assume that these students possess inner strength. After all, he scored the goal, won the award, and got the girl, right?
In contrast, the boy who might only get middling grades, fails at sports, and trips over his own shoelaces, clearly seems like the weaker kid. Yet he might, in fact, be much stronger because of his evident challenges. He might have to fight harder for those C’s and learn to live cheerfully with being a nobody. That often takes a much deeper kind of tenacity. A girl in a wheelchair with a chronic cough just might be the strongest person on the planet.
It’s worth adding, that a parent’s goal for their children should not be “outward success” as such—the grades, the sports, etc. We should care much more about how our children handle failure when it comes.
2. It’s not a particular personality type.
I was painfully shy as a child. Coupled with that, I moved around a lot. That feeling of showing up at a new school, knowing no one, again and again, stays with me now. It taught me to put a strangely high value on being socially outgoing. Those who appeared completely at ease, surrounded by friends, dominating the social scene like bosses… they seemed like towers of strength.
What I eventually learned was that this smokescreen of apparent outward strength often masked deep insecurities. Faking it is not the same thing. Extroverts and introverts alike can be strong or weak.
3. It’s not an unqualified insistence on having your way.
This might be the biggest lie running around in our culture right now.
I worked at a library where I attended college, and one evening a man came in wanting to access the library’s archives. At the time, these could only be accessed during the day with special permission. He became upset at my answer. His paper was due the next day and he needed the research.
He stood his ground and insisted I open the door (for which I had no key). His voice grew louder, he was making a scene. He spoke as if I was purposefully refusing to help because he happened to be a minority.
As I mentioned here, An insistence on human will in the face of any opposition is not strength. It is often only weakness masquerading as courage. Fighting for human rights, dreams goals—at all times, against all barriers, is not where we find inner strength.
4. It’s not being a doormat.
Okay, did I really need to say that?
Yes, because I want to state on record that while strength is not a constant insistence on having your way, it is not constant submission to any obstacle, or person either.
The point is, inner strength can not be found in yourself at all…
When Austen created the character of Fanny Price, she was going out of her way to show us what strength is not. Strength is not found in any of the above mentioned list—Austen used all the typical places we wrongly impute inner strength.
Fanny Price was physically weak, socially awkward, yielding, shy, mousy. Yet Fanny Price was strong. Austen screamed at us to look elsewhere for this kind of strength.
So, where do we find it? I will hit that soon.
Strength is never something we find in ourselves. I will go into this more in the coming article. For now, when the search for strength turns inward, it rapidly collapses into weakness and insecurity. We lose it in spades.
Inner strength can only be found outside of ourselves.
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