When I study the letters of the apostle Paul, I learn a lot about how to cope with suffering. Paul, a former religious-nut whose redemption story proves that no one is a lost cause to Jesus, has suffered more than most.
Apart from the multiple arrests and imprisonments; beatings; starvation; persecution, and rejection, the apostle Paul, had a thorn in his flesh. Reports of what the “thorn” was, vary; some people think it was a lesion. Others believe it was a disease like epilepsy, or that the thorn was a demon that followed Paul around to torment him.
Whatever it was, Paul did not like it. At all.
He asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn. Rather than removing it, the Lord said, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Since people have not changed much, I do not believe Paul was looking for that answer. After suffering so much, Paul probably just wanted it to be over.
God’s response was to let Paul know that what mere men count as a weakness, is what will be his greatest source of strength. The thorn reminded Paul that he was human, fallible, and not as “in charge” as he thought. The thorn brought Paul to the end of himself. His agenda, ego, and self-interest had to be cast aside because they interfered with God’s agenda. Arrogance is offensive to God (and other people) because it sets itself above everything and everyone else. It is a display of strength and confidence that is devoid of both.
Paul recognized this, which is why he replied: “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
When a person has surrendered all traces of self-consciousness and insecurity, he or she has the choice to live with freedom. The thorns of life may cause us pain and discomfort. They may embarrass us, and open us up to ridicule and rejection. They also cause us to focus on what is important. For Paul, his most important role was as a follower of Christ.
The thorn showed those he would be preaching to that Paul was just like them. People best exemplify the attributes of Christ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) when they are vulnerable.
In spite of the circumstances, a person who has attained freedom in his/ her mind is unconstrained. Paul was available to preach the gospel of Jesus in a hostile territory because his strength was not the only source from which he had to draw. In my life, I was never so strong as I was in the times when I admitted my weakness. Like Paul, I have a thorn in my flesh. (A big one!) However, I chose to live my life, in spite of the thorn. It may look like a weakness to those on the outside, but by allowing my imperfection to show, I am affirming God’s strength.
I’m okay with that.