Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Strength

After seeing a YouTube clip of the the memorable crane-kick scene of the original Karate Kid, my five-year-old son begged me to watch the entire movie. While I immediately broke out my checkered Vans, stone-washed jeans, loaded up the "You're the Best" theme song, and prepared to enjoy the movie with my son; my wife was hesitant. "They're not going to get it, our boys will just end up doing karate on each other." After a month of my wife getting sad eyes from my sons and persuasive arguments from me about the positive themes of the film, she caved. We rented the 2010 version and watched the movie together. If anyone hasn't seen the movie (and I can't imagine a scenario where someone could not have seen any film in the Karate Kid series), the premise is that work causes a single mom to move to China and her young son finds himself scared, confused, and in a place of experiencing great weakness. He turns to Kung Fu, taught to him by a maintenance man master. The boy finds life lessons and strength through his relationship with the master. After a week of time outs for the boys doing karate on each other, we had a family discussion about the lessons of the movie. First, as Mr. Han said, "The best fights are the ones we avoid." Next, an important lesson was that the boy found a strength in someone else that he couldn't have found in himself. He found strength beyond anything that he could possess on his own through another person.

I recently read a blog authored by a friend, John Ulsh. John was living the American Dream with a wonderful family and a successful career when on December, 2007, John and his family were hit head-on while driving home from a swim meet. John was flown to Hershey Medical Center with little chance of survival. His family had serious, but less threatening injuries. John now maintains a blog ( where he discusses his recovery from a variety of aspects. It's powerful and motivational. I particularly enjoyed this excerpt from a recent post: "Trust is always easier when things are going well or when things are so bad that you are unable to do things for yourself. Trust becomes a completely different thing when it is blind or when you could just do it yourself, but instead put your faith in another person or process. I trust God has a plan. I believe my calling is to live each day with passion and conviction and to be open to His plan in every experience." His blog reflects a self-reliant, successful man forced to depend on others in ways that he might never have imagined. Yet, through the process he finds strength beyond anything he could possess on his own.

The same storyline appears in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 12 (NLT), the apostle Paul talks of a struggle that he is having, a weakness he is experiencing, a "thorn in his flesh." Paul writes, "Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me." This revelation was a perspective-changer for Paul to say the least. Instead of asking God to relieve him of his weakness, he embraced the weakness because he knew a greater power was found in something other than himself.

This storyline unfolds daily at places like the Carlisle Family YMCA. Someone can purchase a workout DVD and will themselves to exercise in their living room. Some are successful. Many are not. Conversely, when people enter into community, their will and motivation is increased as it is pulled from others during times of weakness. This is easily identified in pursuit of a physical goal (Don't feel like running today? It's much more likely you won't bail if you are supposed to do it with a friend). However, the idea of finding emotional and spiritual strength in our own weakness flourishes in communities like the Y as well. (Just see the uncertain child gaining confidence from participating in a team sport or the teen increasing their faith from a corporate outing with their peers at camp or the notes of encouragement pulled together by friends when someone from their group has been absent for a time) These moments are wrapped in humility, respect, and a maturity to recognize that this life isn't about you. It's about something more. And as you experience that, you find a different kind of strength - a strength that can only be found in weakness.