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Advent Day 20: Strengthen

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Editor’s note: Becky Kreidler will be embarking on mission to Bolivia in 2020 after returning home from mission in Guatemala due to a knee injury. Becky offers us an Advent reflection on the strength she’s encountered during her time in formation with FMS and the ways it’s helped prepare her for this next journey. 

When I entered Formation with FMS in the fall of 2018, I had no idea the period of intense revelation that God had in store for me. In high school and college, I kept myself so focused on “doing” and keeping my life busy because that seemed to be the route to success and perfection: the more I could do, the more I could learn, the more I could accomplish. This is the pattern that our society praises, these are the behaviors that were modeled and taught in school, and this is what I saw friends and people all around me living out. This was what I knew. And as I entered into Formation, I quickly realized that I never left any room to simply be. I reflected that I never really prayed with God during these years; in fact, I rarely ever invited Him into my life at all. To my surprise, through many Formation sessions discussing mental health, spirituality, Franciscanism–and more–brokenness and insecurities that I had suppressed amidst years of busyness came spilling out of me. 

I felt the weight of confronting these inner demons each day, and I could not believe that I never allowed myself to feel these things before. I remember wondering: how I could have been on the planet for 22 years and managed to not be fully honest with myself and aware of the state of my own heart? And amidst grappling with all this, I started having intense and unexplained knee pain. I remember weeping to God on some of those October days asking Him why my whole being felt so broken. Why was all this pain outpouring at once? None of these scars were visible to the eye, and yet they were some of the most raw emotional and physical hurt I’d yet to experience. I asked Him to heal me, to show me confidence and worthiness, and to lift the pain that I felt permeating deep in my knee. 

As Formation continued, one of the main messages I felt like I kept hearing again and again in subtly different ways from session presenters was the importance of being at peace with oneself before one could be a peacemaker. As a person who is almost always stuck in my thoughts, I often found myself mulling over that idea and feeling frustrated that I did not feel at peace with this abundant brokenness that I seemed to be discovering more of with each passing day. I eventually concluded that this healing I was seeking was something I had to overcome before I left for mission in Guatemala. I continued to pray, asking God for healing, and trusted that since He placed the desire for mission clearly on my heart, of course He would heal me before I stepped on that plane for Guatemala City.

In my mind, I had to come into mission strong and woundless, which I now understand was myself dualistically thinking that mission and weakness could not coexist. And yet, no saints or people I know come to mind who, if they know God, did not meet God profoundly in a place of both humanity and utter wholeness. St. Francis came to God through his time as a prisoner of war, St. Ignatius during his recovery from being wounded on the battlefield, and St.Thérèse of Lisieux’s very experience was that of embracing littleness. Near the time of her death, it is recorded that she said, “It is just this, to find myself at my death with empty hands, that give me joy, for having nothing, I shall receive everything from God.” 

I am in awe these days thinking of God’s great love for weakness, emptiness, grace, vulnerability, and brokenness. Just look at how Jesus entered and parted from this world: through the pain of childbirth and through the wounds of the cross. It is one of those things that is so simple and straightforward, and yet I’ve often gotten lost in the dualistic thinking that strength is good and, thus, weakness is bad. The entire Gospel message seems to point to the weak: the leper, the prostitute, the last who shall be first. Time and time again, Jesus explicitly tells us that powerlessness and vulnerability are where divine strength lie.

If I’m being honest, I understand this message logically, but my heart is often struggling to feel and grasp it. There are many times when I would still prefer to be strong rather than carry wounds. I still long for physical and emotional healing that has not yet been brought to fulfillment. I still try to grapple with this message that seems to flip everything I thought I knew about this world upside down. And sometimes, I still wonder how I can be an instrument of peace when I don’t always feel my heart full of abundant peace. But I sit with St. Paul’s words, feeling there is an ocean of depth to them: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). And in a beautiful way, it is enough to simply sit with those words, even though my heart doesn’t fully get the message yet. It is with the same patient and hopeful anticipation of Advent and awaiting the birth of Christ that my heart humbly awaits this divine and gentle strength.

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