I’m sometimes asked just how much of my own life is concealed in the pages of Sensible Shoes. Here’s a short answer to the question:
Mara experienced a couple of true-to-life flashbacks. I was always the last one picked for teams, and there really was a birthday party from which I was painfully excluded.
Meg had to suffer the incarnation of one of my deepest fears. I hope I never receive a phone call that brings sudden and tragic disruption to the life of our family.
Hannah received both the burden of being overly responsible and the invitation to relax into God’s love and care.
Charissa inherited the sin of my perfectionism and my need to be radically converted to grace.
And Katherine got my bench-pressing dream.
I was in my first month of seminary, and I was doing field education work at a male maximum security prison in Yardville, New Jersey. One night I had a dream that was so vivid that when I awoke, I knew God was speaking to me through the images.
I dreamed I was applying for a job at a police station. The officer was particularly gruff and surly as he informed me that in order to get the job, I would have to bench-press two hundred pounds. “Two hundred pounds!” I echoed in astonishment. “But I haven’t done anything athletic for seven years!”
(Remember that I was ALWAYS the last one picked for teams. People actually fought over who had to have me on their team. And at the time of the dream it had been exactly seven years since I had been emancipated from high school P.E. Of course, seven is also a symbolic number for completion, so perhaps what I was actually declaring was, “But I’ve never done anything athletic in my entire life!”)
So the officer scowled and growled and said, “Listen, lady–that’s the job requirement. Is it gonna be a problem or not?”
And I looked him straight in the face and replied, “No, it’s not going to be a problem, because my Lord Jesus is going to do it for me.”
So he led me over to an enormous machine (to this day, I don’t actually know what a bench-press looks like), and he strapped me in. At first, I could hardly lift my arms. But then suddenly, I was lifting enormous weights over and over again, effortlessly.
I woke up before I found out if I got the job, but as I prayed, I heard the Spirit’s gentle voice. “This is a picture of humility, Sharon. And this is where I want you to live: when you have absolutely no confidence in your own power or ability to do anything I ask you to do, but you have absolute confidence in My power and ability to do it through you.”
I can’t tell you how often the images of that dream have returned to me over the years. I’m so grateful that the dream was given as a gift to me in the early days of preparation for ministry, because the temptations to trust in my own strength or wisdom or abilities frequently rise up. Of all the images that could have appeared in a dream, the image of my physical ineptitude–and the utter impossibility of the task–spoke volumes to me about where God was inviting me to place my confidence and trust.
The apostle Paul spoke of having “reason for confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:4) He then gave his resume of his law-keeping. I suppose each of us could compose a list of the things we’re tempted to rely upon apart from the presence and power of God. I know how I have been tempted over the years to rely on my training or education or communication skills. Within areas of giftedness are the temptations to put “confidence in the flesh.” Many churches–and many Christians–function quite efficiently (and by appearances, quite effectively) without any reliance upon the supernatural power of God. I don’t want to live that way.
“Whatever gains I had,” Paul continues, “these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” Whatever reasons for boasting Paul might have had, he learned the secret of boasting in his weaknesses so that he might boast about the power of God.
The bench-pressing dream pointed me to a passage that has become a life verse for me: “[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Thankfully, God continues to give me ample opportunities for bench-pressing so that I can continue to rely on His power and provision. I’d love always to possess the exuberant, child-like confidence I expressed in the dream, quickly turning to the power of Christ whether I’m feeling overwhelmed or comfortable. Most days it’s a slower awakening to God’s invitation to trust Him. But I’m becoming quicker to recognize the blessings of my weakness to bring me into deeper intimacy with Jesus. God’s grace really is sufficient, and His power really is made perfect in weakness.
And that’s something to celebrate. Maybe even boast about.