What is the nature of strength? By definition strength is “the quality or state of being able to withstand great force or pressure.” In terms of the body it is measurable by how much weight one can move. Therefore we each, intrinsically, have strength and the only measure is how much force or pressure we can withstand. The same applies to our mental and spiritual strength as well.
Weakness is the absence of strength. There is no measure for it. Many create a false measure for it by measuring their comparative strength versus someone else’s. This creates vast potential for self-devaluation as we ignore intrinsic strength and instead look at comparative strength. Comparative strength is a never-ending lie as there is always someone stronger on some level and the amount of force or pressure that is being withstood is also vastly different.
Before we approach the nature of strength from a mental illness perspective let’s first take a look at a measurable perspective of the body’s physical strength. In our first example we will look at three different types of people — the “average joe”, the marathon runner, and the body builder. Take a moment to consider which of these you initially believe to be the strongest and which you perceive to be the weakest. Keep the assumption in mind for a moment.
Now many may believe that the body builder is the strongest as he can move the most weight. If we were measuring strength purely by bench presses that may absolutely be true. Does this mean that if one bodybuilder can bench press 500 pounds and another can bench press 350 pounds that the one pressing the lesser weight is weak? If one marathon runner finishes in 2:02:57 and another finishes in 2:30:00 is the slower marathon runner weaker? If our “average joe” enters into a bodybuilding competition or a marathon is he the weakest of all?
Each of us is trained to withstand very different forces and pressures. When the bodybuilder attempts to run a marathon he will find that he cannot come close to some of the slowest marathon runners. When the marathon runner attempts to bodybuild he will find he cannot come close to some of the weakest bodybuilders. The “average joe” when attempting either endeavor will find himself falling short of either. This strongly indicates that there is an additional variable in measuring strength and that it is the type of force being applied. The marathon runner withstands the cardiovascular force as well as the bodybuilder withstands the force of gravity. The bodybuilder’s own weight limits his ability to withstand cardiovascular force as he has to move almost twice as much weight as the marathon runner. Likewise the marathon runner’s capabilities include the breakdown of muscle fibers and thus he cannot obtain the same ability to bench press as the bodybuilder. None of the three men is weak and each has intrinsic strength valuable against the forces they must withstand.
We are all strong enough to withstand the forces presently being pressed upon us. The only way to become stronger is to increase that force or to change the style of force. In this way our strength is our choice as we choose which pressures we are going to apply to ourselves. There is no weakness. We are each as strong as the current forces we are withstanding. This applies to the mind and spirit as well. Many times these forces seem to be on the verge of crushing us. Yet we resist. We have not died. We have not lost our minds (even when we suggest that we have). We have not had our spirits crushed or lost faith. That is because we are strong enough to face these forces over and over again. Do not look to another to see how she fares with her burden. Her burden is not yours. It is entirely possible she would be crushed beneath your burden and you would be crushed beneath hers.
Let’s again view our competitors and look at the nature of their strength in relation to the amount of help they get. When a runner runs he likely has a coach that is giving him feedback on his timing, footwork, and more. The bodybuilder has a spotter who assists him. The role of the spotter is that when the bodybuilder pushes the limit of his weight he steps in and lends strength just right at the sticking point allowing the bodybuilder to put the weight back on the rack. When a bodybuilder lifts alone he can improve his strength, but nowhere near as well as when he has a spotter. Emotionally and spiritually who is your spotter? Is it your mother who gives you uplifting advice when you feel the world is crumbling around you? Is it your best friend who shares a perspective you never thought of? Is it your support group who lends love when you’re feeling most down?
All too often we think of ourselves as being only as strong as we are as when we are doing something completely on our own. Life is as much a team effort as any sport is. Thus your strength absolutely is the strength of those around you that you are applying as mental and spiritual spotters in your life. They help you become stronger because they are allowing you to take on more as they lend their strength to you. It is not weakness to rely on them. In fact it is a measure of your strength that you are willing to rely on your spotters.
Remember this the next time you consider yourself weak: You are strong enough to withstand any pressure you currently face. By enlisting the aid of your mental and spiritual spotters you are able to withstand greater pressure. Sometimes we are faced with these greater forces in an effort to get us to practice using our spotters. It helps strengthen our community bonds. You can get through this because you are strong enough. And when you feel exhausted and fatigued your spotters are there to help lift your burden.
Though I am not Christian I find a particular story of the bible an excellent parallel for what I’m speaking of. Jesus Christ had been beaten, tortured, whipped, and ridiculed before making his march to Golgotha carrying the burden of the cross. In Christian eyes Jesus is the strongest there is. Yet even He fell to the earth and required assistance with his burden. This story does not illustrate Christ as a weak man. It illustrates that all of us, no matter how great, will occasionally reach a point where we feel we cannot go on. When that happens we will need help with our burden and help will be there, usually even without it being asked for.