Annalyn’s Corner: Valuing Strength that Lasts

I love how sports anime portray different strengths and weaknesses. In Haikyuu!!, for example, Hinata Shouyou enters high school volleyball majorly lacking in two areas: height and experience. People consistently underestimate him because of this, and no one would blame Hinata if he gave up—at the very least, they’d expect him to envy his taller peers. Instead, he proves that other strengths, such as determination and trust in his settter, can be more valuable than height on the court. Meanwhile, on other teams, certain athletes—especially newer ones—are celebrated for their height, but they often lack other skills that they need to succeed.

Kuroko from Kuroko’s Basketball understands the value of teamwork in a way that his incredibly talented middle school teammates don’t—because unlike them, he’s always been a supportive player, rather than a stand-out star. He’s not too distracted by his own strength to value the strength that comes from a team.

I don't think I'll ever stop admiring the way Kuroko appreciates, understands, and lifts up his friends without seeking his own glory (ep 2).
I don’t think I’ll ever stop admiring the way Kuroko appreciates, understands, and lifts up his friends without seeking his own glory (ep 2).

It’s not just sports anime, of course. In Gakuen Alice, Mikan shows that the way certain special powers (and by extension, the people who have them) are valued over others is ridiculous. In Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi shows that she’s not to be pitied just because she’s poor (and then the rich boys show her that she doesn’t need to be so strong on her own).

I think most of us have consumed enough anime and other stories to accept this theme: Sometimes, society gives us the wrong ideas about strength and what we should value most. We can also accept that someone who is very strong in one area might easily miss or deny how much they’re lacking in another area. It even makes sense that such a strong person might not realize how little their strength is really worth until after they lose.

I would go one step further and say that when we are too weak to hold onto things that society values, we have the opportunity to focus on what God values instead. It’s easy to say that grades, looks, athleticism, money, and other earthly achievements have no lasting value in the face of eternity. It’s easy to say that your treasure is in heaven, and that you rely on God to keep it safe for you. It’s another thing to have your strength ripped away, until all you can do is cling to God’s promises. 

I write the following under the assumption that everyone has weaknesses—perhaps learning about mine will help you think about your own.

When I started high school, I felt mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong. My ADHD (inattentive subtype) symptoms were compensated for by the structure provided by family and school—and, frankly, pure academic smarts. My shyness caused the occasional problem, but my youth protected me from most situations outside my comfort zone. I felt good about my relationship with the Lord, too—I read my Bible every day and was a nice person. I knew in my head that I needed God—particularly for spiritual aid and salvation—and that I was weak compared to him. I also knew that I was no better than any of my peers in relation to God. But in practice, I felt strong—in fact, I even thought of myself as stronger in my faith than most of my friends.

When I was fifteen, that changed. Friends moved. Depression hit, and then anxiety—both of which exacerbated ADHD symptoms. I could no longer make full use of my mind—once my strength and pride. I tried to soothe away depression with Bible verses and logic (“God is with me, and my life is pretty good—I have no reason to be depressed!”). It turns out that emotions need to be felt—and that you can’t will body chemistry into submission. Some days and even months were better than others, but for the most part, the next two and a half years were tough.

My spiritual strength began to wane. I doubted that I loved God—if I did, why would I keep failing to spend quality time reading his Word and praying? And anyway, what good could I be to him, when I barely functioned on a daily basis?

I asked to be healed, to have my mental and emotional stability back. God’s answer to me was similar to his answer to Paul when the apostle asked for relief from his struggles:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 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 Corinthians 12:9-10

So I learned to value God’s grace in a new way. I am not enough—not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. God carries me through.

All treasures that I got on my strength—academic excellency, for example—became less stable, and their temporality became more than a theoretical, theological statement.

Really, I was weak all along. I just didn’t feel like it, because I was too busy comparing myself to people who I thought were more broken than I was.

I’ve been free from depression for four years or so now. I still have the potential for anxiety, but I take steps on a regular basis to avoid the paralyzing, chronic anxiety I once struggled with. That leaves me with… ADHD. And this time, I’m an adult. My mom doesn’t run my life. For a while, college provided some structure—independence with training wheels—but now I don’t have that, either. My package of ADHD symptoms includes not only focus problems, but also serious executive functioning issues—the part of my brain that’s in charge of these functions (organization, time management, processing information, remembering details, decision making) doesn’t work normally. I can compensate for a lot of that using tools and habits I’ve developed over time—in fact, I’ve had people compliment and even rely on my organizational skills—but it takes me longer. I have to be patient with myself, write things down, break things into steps—because if I don’t, it’ll become an overwhelming, intimidating ball of undefined stuff that hangs over my head and triggers the anxiety symptoms—weight on my chest, teariness, and even greater trouble concentrating.

Because of my weaknesses, it’s easy to feel the pressure to adopt traits the society values—traits that are often outside of my grasp. When I feel that pressure, I have two choices: 1) Covet the strengths others have to maintain those qualities for themselves, and then perhaps push myself outside my limits in an attempt to achieve the same. 2) Evaluate the true value of the quality or achievement in light of eternity and respond as appropriate.

Hinata jumps up, trusting Kageyama to put the spike where he needs it.
Hinata jumps up with his eyes closed, trusting Kageyama to put the ball where he needs it. He knows he can’t make the spike on his own, so he does his best and trusts Kageyama from there. This picture really resonates with me—there are times when it seems like I can’t do anything. Even my blog posts usually feel like a jumble of disorganized thoughts. All I can do is write them out, try to organize them, and trust that God will take it from there. (Haikyuu season 1, episode 5)

First, I faced the futility of academic excellence. I’m not saying it’s completely unimportant, but it’s not eternally significant, either (I’m talking big picture here, like Ecclesiastes-level big picture). It’s certainly not worth getting anxious about.

Independence is overrated, too. I’ve written about the importance of community and teamwork several times, but to recap: There’s this idea that we’re supposed to succeed on our own as much as possible, without inconveniencing others or showing our weakness. Christians should know better, given Scripture, but instead we just add spiritual weaknesses to the list of things we try to conquer alone.

Here’s another sneaky one: busyness. Stress almost seems like a desirable thing—like if you don’t balance as much as possible as soon as possible, you’re not living up to your potential. Some people seem able to navigate busy and high stress lives with ease. That’s great for them! God will use them in different ways than he uses me, and that’s exciting. But sometimes, I watch my friends rush back and forth with anxious looks on their faces, and I want to tell them, “It’s okay not to do everything. Rest. Be at peace with who you are in God, and in his provision.”

Sometimes, I feel myself becoming anxious to live up to some nebulous definition of success and responsibility. When I identify and face these fears, I often realize that I’m worrying about the wrong thing. Some job opportunities probably will pass me by—either because I don’t apply in time or because I’m not qualified. I probably don’t meet a lot of people’s standards on my level of busyness or independence. The world tells me to rely on my strength to secure a “successful” future. The Bible tells me to work hard, but to trust God to guide and mold me.

I do my best to improve, but I don’t have to stress about meeting others’ expectations for me. I’ve learned to value other things because I’m forced to slow down and stop relying on my own strength. I’ve learned the importance of community, and of grace for myself and others. I’ve learned to slow down, pay attention to people, to be compassionate and patient with the weak.

When we think about Christian values, the number one to come to mind should be love. Oh, sure, good stewardship of time, money, and gifts is important. So is spreading the gospel, generosity, and good work ethic. But all of these should be done as subcommadments to the commands to love God and love others. When keeping one of the less important commandments—or appearing to keep them—takes precedence, we have a problem. I can’t minister to others if I’m too busy pushing myself beyond my limits. Don’t give me the “yes, but it’s just a season” excuse either. School was “just a season.” A summer full of work and volunteering was “just a season.” And this period of uncertainty, in which I need to balance applications and side work is “just a season.” But guess what? Forget season. Even a day in which I’m too anxious to treat people around me with love and honor is too much. If making room for relationships with others and with God during every season of my life means I can’t constantly work toward success in other areas of life, then fine. Living with ADHD has taught me that the fast, neatly-planned track to success is overrated anyway.

Once you accept your weakness, it’s easier to see the strength of others. I’ve learned that my strength and my glory are fleeting—God’s endures forever. So as I carefully select paths to pursue in my methodical, careful, slow way, I’m learning to ask: Whose strength am I relying on for this? Whose glory am I pursuing? How does loving God and others fit into this plan? I don’t always remember to ask these questions. But when I forget, a sense of anxiety or frustration usually reminds me to get my priorities straight.

Whoa, I got a long ways away from the anime I talked about at the beginning of the post. But that was inevitable—anime don’t tend to focus on the eternal, only to accidentally point toward them. From Kuroko to Mikan, anime characters do a great job reminding us that the strengths others value so much aren’t always enough. We have to look at the Bible to remember what never fails: God’s grace, love, and power to sustain us. If we have to lose some of our strength in order to understand that, it’s worth it.

6 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Valuing Strength that Lasts

  1. I’ve often wondered if the way society understands strength and success to work is actually rather Satanic, despite being built upon a Calvinist Protestant worldview that saw success as a sign of salvation. Because whatever else you might say about Lucifer, he is quite strong in the way society understands it (Social and political prowess, rather than spiritual strength, high executive functioning), and he loathes the indecisive and anxious person too nervous to pursue power and Self. It is ( And I can speak from rather personal experience), an intoxicating feeling to be told to stand up and rely on your own strength, and then succeed. If you play Magic, the outlook roughly corresponds to Black morality. His children are not the disadvantaged and the scared of the world, but the sociopathic and powerful that he uses to his own ends.

    But fundamentally no one’s strength and Will can last forever, and when we fall and fail without God….there is no one who can pick us up out of despair. The world’s glory is a deceptive and painful lure, and ironically it is the Christian who is most likely to fall for it. Attributing their success to “capitalism” and blaming “Muslims” or “immigrants” or the poor and miserable for their failure to be perfect. Yet Jesus never asked us to be THAT kind of perfect at all. He instead asked his children to be pure and noble and sinless. He asked us to trust God and not ourselves.

    The kind of strength God lives is trust, and faith. Likely. Hope this is at least of interest.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! As usual, you provide an interesting and different perspective. I don’t know Magic, but your comparison still makes sense.

      Satan doesn’t like any human, remember, anxious or not. He is the enemy of all, always ready to deceive, whether that means seducing someone with power or convincing someone that they are worthless (or any of a number of other deceptions). Still, I’m reluctant to say that the way our society understand strength and success is even “rather” satanic. Humans are in a state where we don’t need Satan’s help to have a sinful, warped view of the world (although he and his followers are not absent).

      I do agree with what you’re saying about trust, and how we’re not supposed to be “that kind of perfect.” The strength found in trust, faith, and purity is more worthwhile, but, just to be clear, even in those qualities we’re not expected to be strong all on our own. That’s what makes the gospel message so powerful: Christians rely on Christ’s purity, not our own, to secure us eternal life. As we continue following him, we become increasingly like him with the help of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we must put forth effort, but we know our identity and value are already secure.

  2. And to be fair, my point of view here is not remotely Biblical, but instead based upon my (Very real to me!) Interactions with a demon and comparisons of his apparent opinions to how representations of him and his kin (villains) talk. And what they are talking about, morally speaking. So we are definitely going to disagree on that, while I do technically believe that much of what the Bible says is true. And that’s okay! Makes life interesting! 🙂

    And yeah, what I was trying to make clear is that we live in a society that basically punished people for mental illness, and for not being successful, and then hypocritically says that punishment is Christian morality. It is not remotely Christian morality! It’s worldy morality that values power and individualism over kindness and faith. And that’s not what God seems to mean by working hard.

  3. The same people who say mind-based disability isn’t real and “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “End welfare, the poor are undeserving,” well….the majority of them aren’t atheists. They claim they’re Christian. But what they practice is not the religion of the man who saved a prostitute and made fishermen His priests. Nor the religion of the people who would welcome the comments of an Autistic pagan. : )

    1. Thank you for your clarifications! Unfortunately, you’re right that many Christians—including some who genuinely are Christian—have gotten really confused/deceived about all the things you listed—mental disabilities, welfare, etc. It’s all too easy to say others’ struggles aren’t real (or aren’t common, or aren’t that severe), and then go on living with a more comfortable perspective and set of values. The sneakiest lies are cloaked in Christian lingo, and I know I’ve been susceptible to them as well. To make it worse, folks get caught up in the politics of welfare, instead of the application of the love Christ taught. I say “folks,” but I’m not innocent on this matter, either—I’ve just learned to stop making assumptions after being exposed to life outside of my comfy middle-class family.

      Those who don’t welcome the comments of “an Autistic pagan” are seriously missing out. We still disagree on many things (and I’m praying that the most important parts change someday), but we’ve benefited from your perspective here. Others can as well.

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