In weakness, strength and maybe the death of the ego

When I was around 15 I was in a wheelchair for 18 months. I could sort of hobble around when I was at home, but if I was going any distance longer than from my bedroom to the couch, I really needed a walker or a wheelchair. I needed to get my hips replaced, which wouldn’t happen for another year or so.

The evangelical church I was going to at the time would let folks from the congregation get up to read the Bible verse for the day, and I liked volunteering for that. I’ve always liked getting up in front of a group of people to give a talk or perform. A group of people who are there to listen was always easier for me than a group that might respond back.

So one particular Sunday I was going to read, and so my mom wheeled me up to the front of church to where the microphone was. I propped myself up out of the chair and took a few halting, painful steps to the microphone. Every step more or less hurt, so this was routine for me, but it’s evident to everyone when a 15 year old kid walks like I was walking at the time.

The verse I was going to read I hadn’t chosen, or known what they were until I got to Church that day, but the words had an insane impact being said by me, this kid who really couldn’t walk.

The verse was from 2 Corinthians, and ended with this.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

And I remember delivering those final words and making eye contact with everyone as I said them. I sort of realized what I was saying, but at 15 it was hard for me to really grok how people were going to receive what I was saying.

Someone apparently came up to my mom after church and told her that seeing me do that was inspiring. So my mom came up to me while I was in the wheelchair and relayed that to me.

I don’t know who said those words, but I do know that I got angry. It seemed selfish of this woman to be extracting motivation from my circumstances. I’m not sure what she was going to take back to her life from my life, but I did know that it wasn’t helping me get out of the wheelchair.

The Bible has a lot of layers to it, so I went back just now and read through some commentaries. It’s pretty well-established that Paul is sharing that he’s got some malady (specifics are never given as to whether it’s physical or otherwise), and that he believes that malady is there to keep him honest.

This thorn in the side similar to what the stoics would do intentionally when they would abandon their beds to sleep under their kitchen tables on the hard floor, and regularly go without creature comforts of life as a way to keep their egos in check.

In Paul’s case, he believes the thorn in his side was given to him so that he would have to allow the Grace of God to make up the difference in his life. In order to do his work, he had to leave his ego at the door and acknowledge that he could not do everything on his own.

The stoics will say that they put themselves in uncomfortable situations to remind themselves that everything can be taken away, and they will eventually die, and this helps keep their egos in line.

I stood up there reading that verse that day able to convey the emotional impact of the words, but really just existing as a kid who wanted to walk pain-free again. I didn’t want to be anybody’s mascot.

There was anger there. And the anger is still there 15 years later. And perhaps that’s my ego talking. Maybe I’m feeling entitled to a life without pain and I have no such right, much less grounds to demand anything of the sort.

The answer I suppose that I can give is that I should be ready to accept the life I am given, and be grateful for the opportunity. And by wishing for something different, I may be missing out and ignoring what is right in front of me.

I wrote about acceptance the other day, and this is another shade of it.

I wonder what 15 year old me might say about it. I wonder what I’ll say about it in a year, or ten.

Hopefully I’m doing as well as I can with what I have. I do know that’s all I can ask for.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.

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