There’s an old saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

But the expression begs the question: Where do the “tough” get their spiritual energy to “get going?”

This is the kind of question I ask of patients facing difficult illnesses. The question is a part of the spiritual assessment designed to help the patient articulate the source of their spiritual energy or strength. It serves as a spiritual inventory of sorts, which helps them focus on their spiritual resources.

Some will answer with traditional references to established religions. They will name a religious book such as the Bible or the Koran. Others will specify Jesus, while others take a more generic route and simply say, “prayer.”

Yet there are many, and I hope you’re not one of them, who cock their head like a dog listening to a high-pitched sound and have no earthly idea what I’m talking about.

It’s really the same question Delilah asked the strong man Samson in a Sunday school favorite from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

You may remember the story of this long-haired 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.

With the subtlety of a bazooka, Delilah drilled Samson as to the secret of his strength. Samson concocted some crazy answer and 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.)

Then in a scene from “Batman,” (pow, biff, bang, sock, splat) Samson took them all down.

Samson had lied to Delilah, kept his strength and served up some sucker punches. This scenario was repeated three times until Samson finally told Delilah the secret only his hairdresser would know 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 me 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.

This past month, I had occasion to pose my question of strength to a 10-year-old cancer patient.

She told me her strength was coming from the prayer her grandfather taught her. Then, I asked her what kind of cancer she had. She didn’t really know.

“It isn’t good,” she said.

She’s right, it isn’t good, but this little balding girl, more than many I’ve met, seemed to be in touch with the source of her strength and, come what may, she’s counting on that strength to sustain her.

So where does your strength come from?

Psalm 121 points us to where we might look for that strength: “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.”