“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” -Leymah Gbowee
In her book, “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War,” Leymah Gbowee tells her story of living in Liberia during the civil war that lasted from 1989 until 2003. She was abused both physically and emotionally by her boyfriend, endured the rape and murder of friends and family members during the war, was poverty stricken, lived in a refugee camp, witnessed the nation’s children as they were turned into child soldiers, and lost many people she loved.
She tells the story of birthing one of her children in the midst of a war-torn, economically unstable country. She had no money, and the hospital where she delivered the baby would not let her or her baby leave until the bill was paid. Gbowee was given a blanket and told to go into the hallway where she sat for over a week. She had nothing for the baby and was left with no medical treatment for her recovery.
Gbowee’s life contains story after story of devastating conditions, loss, and war, and yet somehow she led a movement that changed the country. She became a peace activist and helped found and lead the Liberian Mass Action for Peace—a band of women who confronted the president and warlords of Liberia, ultimately assisting in bringing peace to their nation.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
The thing that most resonates about Gbowee is her profound weakness. Her story is woven with tears, questioning, abuse of alcohol, and depression. Her success as a peace activist and a leader holds a painful beauty—one borne of loss and suffering. But instead of hiding, she let her wounds gape open and shared them with them women of Liberia. She led workshops and listened to every painful detail of the stories that haunted these women. Gbowee found power in weakness, in sharing the stories of the women of Liberia, and in their mutual affliction. Through sharing her story of unruly loss and pain, she became a confidant, an advocate, a spokesperson, and ultimately a symbol of peace and hope for her country.
Isn’t it a little absurd that we humans find strength in communities where we face our weaknesses? We have Alcoholics Anonymous, sexual abuse treatment programs, drug recovery programs, weight loss programs, and many other groups where people with the similar weaknesses come together to obtain power over their addictions. There we find love, acceptance, and the power to overcome.
It seems that it is in the face of our own confession of weaknesses that we find strength. God has designed it this way—His own greatest victory (His resurrection) took place following His greatest “weakness,” death. Gbowee fell on her face time and time again, but she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. If we look into the history of our own lives, we see that so many of our greatest moments were a result of periods or acts of weakness. These moments were meant to glorify God, and not to glorify ourselves.
We are asked to embrace the paradox of weakness, only to find strength on the other side. A strength that is not our own, but more powerful than any measure we could muster. If we learn, like Gbowee to let our wounds gape open, we would see the magnitude of His power working through them.
Whitney Hale has been a Reader for Ruminate since March of 2007. She received her B.A. in English From Liberty University.
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