God gives us the strength we need, when and how we need it.
It is not easy to live every moment as a true child of God. That is why we’re in great need of the Holy Spirit to put into our souls the gift of strength, which draws us to God like a magnet attracts bits of metal. If we could simply be one of those tiny bits, like the saints, everything would become so much simpler for us.
This comparison does not mean that holiness is an irresistible movement in which the saints are carried away whether they want to be or not. If the magnet always exerts its power of attraction—in other words, if God’s strength never fails—we can choose to be, or not to be, the little bits of metal.
We are never holy—or sinful—outside of our own will. But what the example of the magnet and the bits of metal indicates is that God’s strength is dynamic, a movement that draws us towards the One for whom we are made and for this reason it helps us overcome obstacles. It is not “to overcome for the sake of overcoming” (to excel or to prove that I am the best), but “to overcome for God.”
The gift of strength is always within us
It is important to remind children, on a regular basis and in a direct or indirect way, that the gift of strength is within each of us. Examples of our need for it abound: From the tired person who doesn’t know how they will find the courage to be faithful to his or her resolution to jump out of bed on time every morning, to the depressed person who gives up when faced with the slightest obstacle. From the insecure person who never stops repeating “I’m no good” to the temperamental one who goes from enthusiasm to despondency in the blink of an eye. From the impetuous person who dives recklessly into a thousand appealing projects to the volunteer who clenches his teeth to keep from showing he is afraid, to the prideful person who wants to solve all her problems by herself. We could go on and on: we all need the gift of strength. And it is given to all of us. That is why we can trust in ourselves: because this “in us” is inhabited by the strength of God.
Another comparison to help children understand what the gift of strength is: I’m going on a road trip; I know the goal, I have maps to show me the way, I’m determined to go; but I’ll never get to the end of the journey if the car doesn’t have a good engine. The gift of strength is this engine that allows me to move forward in God’s love. It is up to me to maintain that engine or let it rust in a corner. As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
God gives us strength when we need it
God gives us the strength we need, when and how we need it. This is why we do not have to worry in advance about possible hardships that could strike us or those we love, starting with our children. As Blaise Pascal expresses in the Mystery of Jesus: “How you would act in a given situation is more of a temptation for me than a test for you, because I will act in you.” In other words: “Don’t worry in advance about what might happen to you: when it happens, I will act in you.”
When Jesus says to us, “So do not worry about tomorrow … Each day has enough trouble of its own,” and when we ask the Father for “our daily bread,” this also applies to strength: we don’t need to have any reserves of it. God knows what we need at every moment. He knows better than we do the size of the obstacles on our path and the weight of the cross on our shoulders.
When we explain this to a child (and especially to a teenager) who has a tendency to worry, they sometimes answer: “If God always gives His strength, why do some people look devastated? Why has this or that person collapsed?” Two elements for an answer: First of all, God’s strength does not act automatically. It is a gift, which a person can refuse (out of pride, lack of hope). Secondly, God sometimes allows a person to “crack” in order to open their heart, so they may discover that they are poor and small and need God.
Let us beware of appearances: he who seems weak to us may be led by God’s strength, and vice versa. And let us not forget: Jesus, in whom the gift of strength is fully accomplished, nevertheless fell under the weight of the Cross. He was thirsty. And He died. How could we, then, be astonished at our falls and our apparent failures?