From Power To Weakness - Kyle Hanawalt
I was recently rewatching the first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, in preparation for the second season which just came out this last week. And in the first episode there is this scene that just stuck with me. It is a scene in which Mrs. Maisel wakes up while her husband is still sleeping - and sneaks out of bed, making sure to keep quite as to not wake up her husband - she does her hair, does her makeup, put perfume on, get all ready. Then gets back in bed, then a second later the alarm clock goes off and her husband wakes up and she pretends like she just woke up too.
SLIDE There was just something so perfect about this scene, I felt like it painted this perfect picture of what it feels like to be humans sometimes. That the goal is to look as put together as possible without looking like you are trying to hard. To just wake up effortlessly beautiful and put together.
I actually think it is part of being human - the desire to present our strength and skill and having it all together.
Throughout my life I feel like I have been taught to always put my best foot forward. To draw people’s attention to my skills, my competency, my strength.
And in turn to hide my weaknesses from the spotlight.
When I came across something I didn’t understand when I was in school I learned things went way better for me, if I pretended I understood and BS’d my way through it, than if I actually admitted that I didn’t get something.
Or once I started working - I came to see that the people I most frequently saw getting promoted were those who tended to promote their work more - it wasn’t necessarily the more skilled or capable people that got rewarded, it was those that good at drawing attention to their skills and diffusing attention from their weaknesses. I think I have even seen this in relationships - particularly when I was younger - who were the people who seemed to be most popular, the most successful in romance. - It wasn’t the nicest people, it wasn’t the smartest people, or even always the most attractive people, It was those who seemed confident - those that would project having it together. I don’t necessarily think this is all bad - understanding your strengths and weaknesses and learning to lean into your strengths can be helpful But, I think we all also on some level can feel exhausted with this. Well at least I do, I feel exhausted at trying to pretend that I am all put together
I don’t know if you caught our opening video - but It talked about imposter syndrome.
The psychological reality that most people feel a little over their heads. That even qualified people can feel like they are faking it and soon others will figure that out. And that fear of being found out causes anxiety, stress, and prevents us fully enjoying the successes we do have.
I resonate with this because I feel this at times - probably about once per month I have this thought - I wonder if other pastors really do just have it all more together than I do - I wonder if other pastors just feel more certain and capable than I do.
And I think this is indicative of the fact that Church, just like rest of our world, all to often, communicates messages that we really should be more put together than we are.
If fact this is what I most frequently feel frustrated about when I look at the current Christian landscape - that it seems to be constantly trying to tell a narrative of our world where it positions Christians as the Heroes of the story
And I think this narrative that Christians are the heroes that have it figured out - promotes this same kind of Marvelous Mrs Maisel behavior that is already so prominent in this world.
Hide your weakness, hide your doubts, hide your shortcomings - And in turn act super certain, pretend like you have it all figured out, pretend like you don’t wake up as much of a hot mess as everyone else in the world.
The problem with telling a story where you are always the hero, it forces your attention to the parts of you that look heroic and away from the parts of you that need to be challenged.
And so thus you inpret the world through those heroic eyes. It not that you are stubborn and unwilling to listen to divergent ideas, no - it’s that you are courageous to stand up for you beliefs - not willing to give in to enemy.
It’s not that you judge, demonize, and exclude others, no - it’s that you stand for truth.
It’s not that you belittle and condescend those around you, no - you’re the hero who is benevolently trying to help others find the truth you already have.
And I find the fact that we are so prone to think of ourselves as the heroic ones, in our attempt to follow Jesus is particularly inappropriate in light of actually reading the Bible.
Time and time again God chooses to work through the least heroic looking people - Joseph and David, younger children with no cultural right to claim any power, Moses - a man self professed to of being in ineloquent in his speech. Working through barren women, widdows, or Paul - a man who called himself the worst among us.
Or I am often marvel at how the disciples are depicted in the Gospels - the closest followers of Jesus - and the ones who are actually writing the words we read - They are depicted as these fumbling often confused guys - who so often get things wrong or misunderstand what Jesus is actually trying to say. In fact, some of Jesus’ most profound teaching come in response to some of the thing that the disciples said that were incredibly off base and not put together All to say - I actually have come to find my monthly questioning of how put together I really am, my monthly realization that I don’t have it all figured out, and my monthly struggle with doubt, to actually help me find Jesus more - and I would actually venture to say that I think it might actually make me a better pastor for it.
(Pause) SLIDE And this all feels very apropos as this is the second Sunday in what is known in the Church calendar as Advent -- the 4 weeks before Christmas, which is meant to work a time of preparation for celebrating God coming to humanity in the birth of Jesus
A celebration of a God that chose to be born in a stable of a humble couple in strained circumstances, far from home and out of money. That the God of the universe chose to communicate the great mystery of His love and mercy by sending us the least threatening, the least strong, the least put-together divine presence we can imagine — a small child totally dependent on his parents.
I think I find the message of Christmas, of God coming to us in such humble circumstances to be so meaningful because it is so counter to all the other narratives that I experience.
And this is why it’s so good for our souls to revisit the Christmas story and the events around the Christmas story every year. As familiar as they might seem to us, in terms of how we Americans live by default, they are foreign!
(Pause) SLIDE One of the events around the Christmas story often visited in Advent is the prayer that Mary, Jesus’ Mother, prayed upon finding out she is pregnant with Jesus. It’s called the Magnificat SLIDE We actually as a church have returned to this prayer each Advent we’ve been in existence. And we do so because we think it kind of works as a beautiful example of what what faith looks like - an example of how we might orient ourselves to faith.
So I want to invite you to listen to this prayer and to particularly pay attention to May’s heart in this prayer.
Luke 1 NLT “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. 47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! 48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. 50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. 51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. 52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. 54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. 55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
I’ve always kinda loved this prayer by Mary.
In a strange way, it has described my own experience of faith as well as anything. That when I embrace my need, when I acknowledge my shortcomings, that is when I most find the help, validation, guidance, healing, support that God has for me.
Look at her words he took notice of his lowly servant girl has done great things for me His mercy extends He scatters the Proud He has lifted up the humble Filled up the hungry Helped his servant Been merciful Fulfilled his promises There is an embrace of weakness, need. She is not striving to prove herself, jockeying for position, keeping score with the world?
No, she is open and vulnerable, and soft.
(Pause) SLIDE Richard Rohr a Catholic thinker, whom we tend to quote fairly often as he is one of my favorite writers on matters of faith and spirituality alive today.
I think there is an excerpt from something he wrote that gets at the heart of Mary’s prayer here, and gets at the heart of Jesus’s birth, and frankly gets at the heart of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
“It takes all of us a long time to move from power to weakness, from glib certitude to vulnerability, from meritocracy to the ocean of grace. Strangely enough, this is especially true for people raised in religion. In Paul’s letters, he consistently idealizes not power but powerlessness, not strength but weakness, not success but the cross. It’s as if he’s saying, “I glory when I fail and suffer because now I get to be like Jesus—the naked loser—who turned any notion of God on its head.” Now the losers can win, which is just about everybody. The revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus forever redefines what success and winning mean, and it is not what any of us wanted or expected. On the cross, God is revealed as vulnerability itself (the Latin word vulnus means wound). The path to holiness is so different than any of us would have wished or imagined; and yet after the fact, we will all recognize that it was our littleness and wrongness that kept the door to union and love permanently wedged open every day of our life. In fact, there is no way to close it.”
(Pause) Today, we so often look for hope in strength, success, power, in being put together like Ms Maisel. I know at least for me, I so often associate the life I want with a life with plenty of resources, a life with power I can wield, with success, and comfort.
SLIDE But, this Advent season, invites us to consider a subtle inversion of value, a flipping of the script. that power is borne of weakness and strength of humility. It is not strength, or self reliance that lead us into life, it is humility, the acknowledgment of our need for help.
And this is at the very heart of our vision for this church, BLV In fact, I remember vince and I praying together several year back this was when BLV was a mere glimmer of an idea and as we were praying we felt like God laid out the heartbeat of what BLV would later become. And this heartbeat was true and honest humility... that finding the help we need in life, finding the validation we desire, the connection and depth we long for. It all begins with humility, the softening of our own hearts to say, I don’t have it all figured out, I am limited, I do have flaws, I do fail, And It is this which opens up the door to everything Jesus has for us.
So we began planning to start a church because we wanted to experience more of the amazingness of the humility Jesus has led us to... and we wanted more people to experience the amazingness of the humility Jesus leads people to -- that Mary’s prayer is a picture of.
Now, I love in that quote when Rohr says - losers can now win.
But, I also want to acknowledge that losers can lose too What I mean is that our weakness, our flaws, our failures can, and I would say usually do make us feel worse. That our flaws isolate us, or make us feel less lovable, or question our worth. I would actually say that this is the default experience of humans. It’s why I think we are most prone to try and hide or cover up our weaknesses. So, if you are feeling really aware of your flaws and failures and need, I think it is likely that it leaves you feeling quite crappy. And when that leads you to hiding, withdrawing, isolating yourself, lashing out, or self hate. I would say that is losing to lose.
Now, what I think Rohr is talking about when he says that Losers can to win - what I think is actually at the heart of Jesus’ message is that - when you feel weak, when you feel you need, you have the opportunity to find the kind of validation and acceptance that we all long for. That actually being in a place of weakness, being familiar with it, in that we can actually find true belonging and love. In fact, we can only really find this kind of validation and acceptance from a place of weakness.
This is because - when we find love and acceptance in the midst of our weakness we can know that the love we find is not conditional of performance, not conditional of our aptitude, not conditional.
I think of That scene in Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Where she pretends she wakes up fully put together and done up It just captures something for me. It is, I think, a picture of how we feel in life. That finding the love we want is found when we look like we effortlessly just woke up beautiful and fully done up.
I think the truth is - we long to be loved when we wake up a mess.
And in fact when are a hot mess - unkept - totally undone - and then are still met with love - it’s only then that we begin to tear down all those fears - tear down all those doubts - that the love we receive is fleeting - something unreliable, something that we must continue performing to keep.
So, why is Mary’s prayer so powerful to me - because she is in touch with the fact that she is so loved by God AND in touch with the fact that she has done nothing to deserve it AND that doesn’t leave her feeling indebted or insecure, it leaves her feeling grateful and invited into a story so much bigger than her.
So - I hope that you can experience some of that here today.
But like Rohr said it takes a long time for us to move from power to weakness - this is a whole lifetime effort. So I want leave you with something for you to try out this week on your lifetime effort.
I have at times - felt really familiar with my shortcomings, really familiar with my weakness, and there have been times where I felt like I was able to bring myself to God in prayer - to lay out my hot mess self. And in some sort of interactive way - I felt him meet me in that. I felt filled with love, I felt internally truly acceptance.
I have probably half a dozen experiences in my adult life where I felt that. Which is awesome, and going to pray for that in a moment.
However, I would say I actually most frequently have experienced God to meet in this way through other people.
I frequently feel God communicating his love for me in the face of my need, and failure, and flaws through the words and affection of people in my life. And so I want to leave you with an exercise to try. Finding a friend or someone you trust. Share- about an area of weakness, failure, fear, need or insecurity.
Have them reflect back what you said, - What I hear you saying - Is that right? Receive love - have them validate that you are loved.
Maybe have them say - I hear this thing you shared, and I love you. God loves you. I am thankful to have you in my life.
Yes, this is an incredibly vulnerable thing to do, so please make sure who you do it with is someone wise to be vulnerable with, but SLIDE As Rohr said, “God is revealed as vulnerability itself (the Latin word vulnus means wound). we will all recognize that it was our littleness and wrongness that kept the door to union and love wide open”
Stand with me