God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. – 1 Corinthians 1:27
Thanks to my good friend, Ryan Boettcher, I was introduced to Sarah Williams via her moving book, The Shaming of the Strong. Williams is Associate Professor of Church History at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has held academic posts at Oxford University.
The book, The Shaming of the Strong, relates Williams’ own journey through a challenging pregnancy. Her third child was a joyful expectation when a 20-week ultrasound scan revealed that the baby was developing with a unique condition that would lead to its death upon delivery. Williams lets us into the depths of confusion, grief, despair, and joy that meets her within the months of her pregnancy.
With moving honesty, Williams chronicles the challenges that she faced along with her husband, Paul, her two daughters, Hannah and Emilia, and close family and friends. How do we relate to one another when things are not as we had hoped? How do we relate to God in these challenging situations? How might we need our own hopes and dreams to be refined by the apparent ‘wrongs’ that come into our lives.
Now, some of you are saying: “Matt, this really isn’t a book I’m going to read because it really doesn’t apply to my life. I mean, I’m not pregnant … I don’t have kids … I’m not even thinking about getting married …”, etc. Listen to me: this is a book worth reading for anyone because of the way in which Williams draws us into her personal story and engages the head and heart with the perplexing issues of valuing life as followers of Jesus, understanding what true strength and weakness are, and wondering how God meets us in the shadows of life.
We all face times, like Job, where our dreams and hopes are taken away or crushed. How might we, like Job, still say:
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,
may the name of the Lord be praised. – Job 1:21
Read this brief excerpt from the end of the book:
Everyone hurts. At some stage most people find that life does not deliver what we expect it would or should, and sometimes, worse still, life damages us directly. Although we may use our strength to control what happens to us, often we have little power to prevent difficult things happening. What we do have, however, is the power to choose how we respond. Everyone can choose to turn towards God and to love him in spite of the difficulty and injustice, even in the midst of a situation. . . . All we would have without him is the illusory freedom of our own strength to protect ourselves and our autonomy to isolate ourselves. (171)
While this profound quotation does not do justice to the narrative of Williams’ journey with her baby, it gives us a glimpse of the power found in her story for us.