You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are

As the pandemic approaches the two-year mark, many of us are feeling exhausted.  What we hoped might be a brief ordeal of a few months or weeks is stretching into years.  An anticipated 10k race turned into a marathon.  Then as 2021 neared its end, we thought we might be glimpsing the 26-mile mark just ahead.  But as 2022 began, the Omicron variant was spreading like wildfire. And living through COVID began to feel like an Iron Man competition – not just a marathon, but a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride too.

How do you endure when the race is such a long slog?  The New York Times asked this question of endurance athletes back in late 2020 – when it was becoming clear the pandemic might drag on for years.  They talked with Coree Woltering, who runs 100-mile races called ultramarathons – the equivalent of four marathons in a row, back-to-back.  They interviewed Conrad Anker who climbed Mount Everest three times.  Dee Caffari was consulted, who was the first woman to sail solo around the world in both directions.  What were some common themes from these world-class endurance athletes?  They all spoke of the importance of pacing yourself, and of taking regular time to rest.  They shared helpful practices of goal setting and creatively adapting to new challenges.  But one discovery all of them cited was this: pushed to the brink, you find you have previously untapped reserves of strength.  They each had faced times when the pain or tedium or relentlessness felt like too much to endure.  And they realized this: “You are stronger than you think you are.”

As Christians, this statement rings especially true.   For we believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God, crafted in God’s image, and given great strength to endure the challenges of life.  But more importantly still, we believe a greater power than ourselves is at work in us, ready to uphold us when our own strength gives out.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes of enduring great suffering.  He tells of his imprisonment in chains with no set date of release.  His life, as he describes it in Philippians, is a long race where he presses on toward the finish line, enduring great suffering along the way.  But near the letter’s end, Paul reveals this great discovery: “I can do all things through God who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Sometimes it is precisely in the midst of a long endurance test that we discover new sources of strength. We find reserves we did not realize we possessed.  After receiving a threatening phone call on a January night in 1956, and tempted to abandon his leadership role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott,  Martin Luther King Junior heard these words of scripture speak to him: “Behold I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  With those words and the promise they contained, King found the strength to persevere in a historic struggle for racial justice.

Paul writes of how Christ provides strength to endure imprisonment and even death.  In this pandemic, when many of us feel pushed to new limits, may we find the strength to endure in the God who “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Palm 145:14).  With God’s help, may we discover anew: “You are stronger than you think you are.”

Pastor Matt