My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).
It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more. It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.
Not MY strength, but HIS.
It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 KJV
This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:
I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.
There were twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land.
All twelve had experienced the parting of the Red Sea, all twelve had seen the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, all twelve saw God conquer the Egyptians. But ten of them never allowed that experience to go further than head knowledge.
Only Caleb and Joshua embraced that truth and allowed God to use it to change their hearts. Those two were willing to fight the giants because they knew it would be God fighting for them and through them and they did not have to depend on their own strength for victory.
That’s what “sterkte” is-it’s inviting God’s power to dwell inside me so that I am strong for battle in HIS strength. It’s letting His Spirit speak courage to my heart so I have the endurance to live this life NONE of us chose.
In my own strength I am doomed. In His strength I am guaranteed enduring to the end.
When I was searching for a verse to help explain sterkte-because it is such a lovely and succinct expression of how hearts can and do endure this awful pain, the dark nights of doubt and yet remain strong in this journey-I found it in Habakkuk.
It’s a tiny book tucked into the back of the Old Testament and begins with the prophet asking God questions:
“Do You know what Your priests and leaders are doing? Are You going to DO something?”
And God says, “Yep. Going to use the Babylonians to wipe them out.”
Habakkuk answers, “THAT’S Your plan???”
God responds, “Yes-but see, I’m going to be sending a Messiah to make all this right. I’m doing something you can’t understand. I’m working my plan for history and eternity.”
Habakkuk ends his book with these verses:
16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.
17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!
Bad stuff was coming!
But Habakkuk appropriated God’s strength for himself and knew that would be enough to see him through.
He was broken but trusting.
There is no shame in being broken.
Here’s the deal: God loves the broken. Christ came for the broken. It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow llife across their wounded hearts.
It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.
It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.
This is NOT a once and done kind of thing- I m here to testify that it is most certainly NOT. I am assaulted repeatedly by pain and doubt. I circle back around and revisit places I thought had healed over and over and over. A sound, a sight or a memory can bring me back to Day One in a heartbeat.
So what does faith really look like?
Is it always a never-ending, wild “Hallalujah!”?
I don’t think so.
I think faith is essentially this: turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.
I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that
that He hears
and that He will not abandon me.
Each time I doubt I am quicker to acknowledge the pain and admit my doubt– I take my questions to God. My mind is more likely to access TRUTH and my heart is more inclined to appropriate God’s strength, my personal bravery, my invincible army.
I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was essentially a personal verse-my faith confirmed to ME that God was working. But now I see it in a different light. I think it is a corporate verse leading my heart to emulate lives that exemplified enduring faith-that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on from Heaven.
I did not choose this life but it is the one I’ve been given. My prayer in this Valley for myself and all of us who are broken is this:
“God to mold me and make me into the masterpiece You designed me to be as a testimony to the fact that You are who You say You are.”
I long for my faith to be evidence to a doubting world that there is MORE than the eye can see. I want my endurance to be an invitation for others to join me in pursuing what lasts for eternity and not just for this short mortal life.
Full redemption will have to wait for Heaven, but God is working even now to bring some redemption from my pain.
He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’
Julian of Norwich