“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Ernest Hemingway
I love this quote. Hemingway places two words together which many wouldn’t expect but which absolutely belong: broken and strong. I look around and see how people struggle, I see my own struggles, and it’s crystal clear to me that we live in a world that challenges and takes from us. Anyone with enough years behind them can see that we are here to learn lessons that come in part from adversity. We break, we are mended, we are strong. That strength comes from weakness. Paul understood that.
“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.” 2Corinthians 12:10
If suffering is a universal experience, and the experience of weakness can make us strong, why do so many of us hide behind a veneer of strength? Why do we pretend perfection and feign superiority over others? Why do we feel so comfortable sitting in judgment over other people?
In part, it comes from fear. Admitting our own fragility may make us feel that the wheels will come off of our otherwise functioning life. Or maybe we believe that association with weakness will taint us in some way. The reality is far from it…actual honest self-assessment and humility are singular pathways to growth. There is no other way. But while we sit in judgment of each other, favorably comparing our lives, bodies, friendships, families, and children against the perceived experience of others, we reinforce our mistaken ideas. And at the same time, we do considerable damage to ourselves and those around us.
A quiet portrayal of perfectionism sends a message to others that they somehow fall short. This lie causes more unintended hurt and pain than anyone probably realizes. The reality is that we are walking together on a winding road, and if we all knew that, it would make life so much easier.
Mothers feel this keenly. I have talked with many mothers who felt as though they were the only ones…the only ones who yelled, who dragged a kid out of Target, whose kid talked back to them, whose teenagers disappointed them. Why do we feel so alone when these are truly universal experiences? There is never anything new under the sun. You are never the only one.
Life can be hard. What a beautiful world it would be if we could walk with each other in our difficulties and celebrate each other’s victories. Thankfully, I have people in my life who will do just that. And my own life experience has taught me that I can be an encouragement to other people as well. And isn’t that how we’re designed? We are supposed to connect, build up, support, walk together as brothers and sisters. As Ram Dass said, We’re all just walking each other home. Our journey begins with the truth and an acknowledgement of our shared experience.
I am broken and I am strong. And so are you.