As you read this, I should be returning from a Honduras mission trip that was sponsored by my daughter’s church, Highlands Church in Denver.

I hope to give more details in an upcoming column, but needless to say, the trip was both rewarding and difficult. Much like the marathon I ran earlier this month, our journey was filled with long periods of endurance, punctuated by memorable moments of amazement.

During both my marathon and the mission trip, there were times when I had to ask myself, “Where do I find spiritual energy to complete my goals?”

It’s the same question I often ask patients facing difficult illnesses. Some will answer with traditional references to established religions. Others will specify a more generic source and simply say, “meditation.”

It’s really the same question Delilah asked the strongman Samson in a favorite Sunday school story from the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

You may remember the story of this longhaired muscle man who likely looked more like a Venice Beach muscle-head than a Bible character. With all that charm, he hooked up with Delilah, a woman from the dreaded Philistines.

But the gal was a double agent and she used the subtlety of a bazooka to drill Samson for the secret of his strength. Samson was wise to her and concocted some crazy answer whereupon Delilah called her Philistine bruisers to take Samson down.

When the hit men arrived, she woke Samson with a line sounding like a two-bit melodrama, “Samson, Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” (Hiss, boo, hiss.)

But it was the Philistines who were taken by surprise. Samson had lied to Delilah, kept his strength and served up some sucker punches. It was a scene, which likely inspired “Batman” — pow! biff! bang! sock! splat! Samson took them all down.

This scenario was repeated three times until Samson finally told Delilah the secret only his hairdresser really knew for sure: His strength would leave him if his hair was cut.

The Philistines then descended on Samson, buzzed him, bound him and blinded him. Alas, all seemed lost for our hero.

But here’s the rub in the story. Samson didn’t really get his strength from his hair. I know that’s what Miss Myrtle taught in Sunday school, but the truth is a little more complicated than that.
Samson was a part of a religious order that took a vow before God not to cut his hair. He didn’t get his strength from his hair. He got his strength from the integrity that came to him from keeping his promises. When he lost the integrity, he lost the source of his real strength.

The story ends with God restoring Samson’s strength, and in a suicidal burst of energy, he literally brought the house down on himself and his enemies — not your typical hero ending, but Samson died, in touch once again with the source of his real strength.

I’ve passed through some difficult days this past few months. I’ve completed a thesis for a graduate degree, run a marathon, and now finished a mission trip to a secluded mountain village.

But in the end, I found my strength as Samson found it — in the integrity of my promises.

Perhaps that’s why I was able to sit in that Honduran village and recall Psalm 121. “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from the mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.”