We’ve all failed, in one way or another. We have all experienced the devastating, haunting sense that we are not enough. The problem is this: most of us turn that sense of failure into a shield, covering up our wounds with a “subtle reach for power” that disconnects us from each other and from Christ.
Shannon K. Evans’ new book, Embracing Weakness, is a thoroughly satisfying conversation on combating that reach for power, and a call to accept our weakness as a gift that unites us to the power of the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ.
Evans begins by exploring the ways we go wrong in our perception of and response to our own and others’ weakness. Her discussion of the ways we numb ourselves to hide our weakness is particularly insightful and challenging: “A heart deadened to its own struggle can never be a refuge for the struggles of others.”
Drawing on themes from sources as disparate as Pope St. John Paul II and the Sufi poet Rumi, Evans then draws a portrait of Jesus’ own weakness, and how two moments in particular — the birth and death of Christ — reveal profound truths about how we are called to respond to weakness.
“Yet to know this God-Man fully and be fully changed by him, we have to know him not just in his humanity, but in his deepest suffering, too. For that is his place of most intimate encounter with the world — not in his power and might, but in his weakness and grief.”
The crux of her argument is this: Christ came to show us how to be weak, and that being weak is an invitation to step forward, toward each other’s weakness rather than away. That stepping forward-and-toward each other is what builds the Kingdom of God on earth.
Throughout Embracing Weakness, Evans illustrates her theological points with tender, frank discussions of her personal and family life. Her gift is in her total honesty: by laying bare the truths of the places where she has been weak, she proves herself to be a trustworthy companion on the road toward transformation. You feel as if you could be chatting over a cup of coffee. Her tone is refreshingly natural and familiar, not at all didactic, even during the Scriptural and spiritual deep dives.
At its heart, Evans’ book is an appeal to all of us to love more deeply.
“The image of God, the imago Dei, is so deeply ingrained in the human person that loving your neighbor cannot be differentiated from loving your God.”
In a world so starkly divided — along political and ideological lines, economic lines, geographic and racial lines — that appeal is sorely needed.
Beyond just the appeal, though, Evans offers real tools for how to do this in the final chapters. By being open about our weaknesses, we collectively learn to practice compassion instead of dismissal, connection instead of control, and to carry that perspective out into the world.
In her story, I recognized a lot of the work our own family has done in the last several years, as we have welcomed a profoundly disabled child and learned to accept that our inability to control his life is a gift from God, not a curse. Our lesson in encountering and embracing weakness — at times a harsh one — has transformed our faith and our compassion for the sick and the poor. Sharing our son with our community has transformed them, too.
In every life, somewhere, there is a similar lesson waiting to be revealed. Embracing Weakness is a worthy and thought-provoking guide to finding yours, and to radically transforming your response to the broken places in the lives of everyone around you.
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Copyright 2019 Christy Wilkens