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The Strength of Weeping in Weakness

I have a friend who was once known for her strength, and now she’s becoming known for her weakness. Rachel Wilhelm, a popular guest writer here, has felt her body break down over the last year.

The only diagnosis doctors can offer is fibromyalgia, a mystery illness known for pain, acute weakness, and frequent sleep disturbance. Yet somehow in the midst of it, God has taken Rachel’s weakness and made something strong out of it.

Here’s her story, in her own words:

Life has become exhausting — more exhausting than it used to be, but I just got accustomed to it. Of course I had a host of symptoms and a number of circumstantial incidents, but I wondered, Should I really be this tired? I felt like I had the flu. 

I had just finished writing a set of lament songs from the Book of Habakkuk for my Bible study, and the thought of singing them was tiring me out. Singing was exhausting. Holding my arm up to play the guitar was exhausting. And then it all came to a head in a painful and fatigue-filled fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Down to Nothing

I stopped running and started napping instead. My husband was not only the bread-winner, he became the bread-maker. I felt useless, dependent, and fussed over. Nobody wanted me to do basic chores like washing the dishes. I found myself raising my voice at my family for helping me. Then it got worse.

I couldn’t get up without pain. I was limping for months on a hip that had really nothing wrong with it. I went from running 30 miles a week to being unable to walk a few feet without pain and fatigue. All the things I loved to do took more energy than I had.

So I had to figure out how to be still, to rest — and all this time I was taking laments from Scripture and putting tunes to them. And as I sang them, I felt them slowly dig down into me. I found myself, when faced with a challenge, singing them in my head.

Sometimes I would just sit down, practice being still, and play my songs to the Lord. I would take His own words and sing them back to Him in complaint, question, doubt, fear, and sorrow. I soaked in them even as I was giving up on ever being my old self.

He Gave and He Gave

As a singer/songwriter, I once had a dream of making an album, but I gave up on that too. Somehow the fatigue made me OK with it though. Plus, I just had this solid feeling inside that I was satisfied anyway. I kept praying through the years, “Lord, let me have it or take the desire away.” I’m still in awe — He let me have it.

I felt compelled to make an album of lament songs, but I had no idea how it would happen. I had several friends encourage me and even suggest it, but I would just shrug it off and laugh. Then I saw a super talented friend of mine who was producing music regularly. I mentioned the idea of a lament album and he talked me into taking it seriously.

“You are going to have to give me the energy, Lord,” I prayed.

And then I listened. I paced myself. My medicine was really helping a lot too. Praise God for that.

Strength in Weakness

Since making this album, I’ve never believed, with such conviction, the truth that when we are weakest, He is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). I made a thousand bars of soap to fundraise the album for Christmastime. When I saw it all piled in my living room I got scared: “Lord, I have open hands,” I prayed. “You urged me to make all this, and I did, and now You have to make it go.”

When I went to D.C. to record, in between takes I would lie down — and the last day I took a full nap while my producer worked on the instrumental pieces. God even provided a couch.

I have found that in my weakest and weariest moments, if I have the guts to admit it and ask for help, God will step in. I might be dragging, complaining, and lamenting the whole time, but what a good opportunity to direct those petitions to the one who holds the power.

It is this very process of engaging with God in our most vulnerable places where we can see Him do the work. This requires patience, and God provides that as well, through the Holy Spirit. God’s open hands provide it — we only have to take it.

Rachel is close to meeting her fundraising goal for her album’s Kickstarter campaign. Go over there and take three minutes to support God’s work in her music. And while you’re at it, listen to my favorite song of Rachel’s, O Love with Heights Unknown.