strong – adjective \strong\

: having great physical power and ability
: having a lot of strength
: not easy to break or damage
: not sick or injured

I woke up this morning with tightness across the back of my shoulders and a dull ache in my knees. The alarm was set for 5:45 a.m. so I could get to the gym, but I didn’t make it. I didn’t even get up until 6:15 p.m. When I woke up and felt the ache, I knew the gym was out of the question.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been lifting weights. A friend suggested we go together, and since strength training provides many health benefits, I agreed. But this body is aging, and strong is a word I rarely use about myself, and most days after the gym I feel weaker than when I started.

Funny thing is, this is the secret to getting stronger: you have to tear down before you can build up. Each time I push the 10-pound hand weights up over my head or each time I pulled the metal bar up to my chest, my muscles are torn and ripped and damaged. I feel it as I set the weights down and rub my sore arms or back. Then, the body begins its repair work, and as the muscles are knit back together, they grow firmer, larger, stronger.

Even now, twenty-four hours after my last lifting session, I’m still experiencing my body’s rebuilding. While I type, I am getting stronger. Since my muscles are still going through their repair phase, it’s probably a good idea that I slept in today, at least in terms of strength training. But sleeping in too many days in a row will mean that I will lose what I have built. In just seventy-two hours, my muscles will start to atrophy, or shrink, and the training I’ve been doing to help my muscles not just endure daily tasks but be strong for the long haul will have all been wasted.

My sore muscles have me thinking a lot these days about what it takes to be strong. A few weeks ago, a friend wrote to me in an email: “You are so strong I often forget what you’ve endured.” I think about illness and cancer and grief and years of loneliness and difficult days of adjusting to so many new things, and I remember all the damage, all the ripping and tearing of lives and relationships and bodies. I remember how very weak I’ve felt trying to navigate the uneven terrain of being a stepmom, and how at the end of some days working for myself, all I can do is put the laptop away and dig my fingers into the tense muscles in my shoulders.

I don’t feel strong. And you probably don’t either.

We raise expectations up over our heads like 10-pound hand weights, and when they aren’t met, we drop them to the floor with a thud. We pull heartache close to our chest again and again in repetition after repetition, and the tenderness grows with each set. We get down and try to lift ourselves up again and again, hoping to find strength in our inner core. But then for days after, we can barely move. When others touch us or bump us or even put a hand on our shoulder, we recoil in pain.

But with all this heavy lifting we’ve been doing for years, we haven’t even realized how strong we’ve become. Because there is never rebuilding without first being broken, and that’s what Jesus does with the difficulties we’ve endured. He lets them tear us down so that He can build us up.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)

Strong Pictograph

Recently, I was talking with a friend and mentioned that I was going to the gym more often. “I’ve started lifting weights,” I told her. Then, to be funny, I added, “But you probably already noticed.” We both laughed. Because if anything, during this rebuilding phase, I look far from strong, hobbling around popping ibuprofen. I’ve repeated the joke a few more times, and each time we all laugh hysterically. I suppose I could be offended (though I am the one telling the joke).

The real humor here is the irony of it all. A flabby middle-aged woman who is building muscle mass right before your eyes! It makes no sense. Neither does the tearing down in order to build. The breaking apart  in order to mend. The weakness and pain and difficulty that make us strong.

Neither does Jesus, who was torn down, broken apart, and killed so I could live. It makes no sense. And yet the truth of it is played out in a million tiny ways, over and over and over again, in our lives, through our wounds, even in the very fibers of our bodies.

Today, I’ll stretch a little. I’ll ride my bike or walk just to get loosened up. Then tomorrow, I’ll be back at the gym to do a little more damage.

How else am I going to get stronger?

What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you. 

Photo by Martina TR, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.