“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Maybe you’ve heard that. Maybe on the radio—a little while back, Kelly Clarkson got a #1 hit with it. Personally, I think, sometimes, what doesn’t kill you weakens you, and comes back to kill you later. This morning, I read River Jordan’s take on this: “What doesn’t kill you might make you wish you were dead.”
The original quote is credited to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900). My guess is Kelly Clarkson won’t get a hit song with his other well-known quip: “God is dead.”
Still, quotable quotes are quoted because enough people find enough truth in them to remember them and pass them on—or set them to music. After claiming that God is dead, Nietzche goes on to say “And we have killed him.” His point, I think, is that the sciences and skeptics and sufferings of the modern age have made belief in God harder. Nietzche would say impossible. I say harder. Either way, it is true for many.
And it is also sometimes true that hardships can help us clarify our values and purify our priorities. A friend of mine once said that cancer helped her realize that the “Big C” in her life was Christ, not the disease. It didn’t kill her. It made her stronger.
My concern is that plenty of people really are weakened by their hardships, but are somehow expected to “buck up” and be heroic examples of courage in the face of crisis. Nietzche also coined another two-edged term: “Ubermensch”—“Superman” in English. I worry that too many of us are expected to stronger than the locomotives of life, to leap over tragedy in a single bound, and outrace every speeding bullet. “Just be stronger,” we’re told—but many of us face problems that really do overwhelm; that really do require more strength from us than we have.
Last Thursday, we had lunch with Janie’s niece Kristy, her husband Chris, and their new son, Kaden. Many of you will remember that they lost their daughter Olivia two years ago, after just 27 days of life. On Saturday, we joined Kristy and Chris and the loved ones of 500 other lost babies at the Orange County Walk to Remember—part of a larger support network for people who’ve suffered miscarriages, still-births, or who’ve given birth only to lose their child to complications, diseases or defects. For some families, there were multiple losses. The babies’ names were read. Parents were given white roses. And we walked five kilometers on behalf of “the steps they’ll never take.”
I cannot fathom what losing a child must feel like. But I doubt very much that it would make me stronger. I suspect it comes close to breaking many people. Yet here we were, surrounded by people who’d suffered just that kind of devastating loss. There were a lot of tears, but there was also a lot of strength—not because we were in a “super-human” crowd, but because people who’d suffered similar devastations had come together to share their losses, remember their loves, and receive the comfort of others who truly knew what it felt like.
Sometimes the things that would kill us are held at bay by those who love us. Sometimes we are very weak, but the love we gain from others, from the living God, is very strong. And it holds us, and preserves us, and gives us just enough to keep going. And sometimes it is our collected weaknesses that, when acknowledged and shared, are transformed into the graces that save us.