Monday, May 23, 2011

Thorns in the Flesh

“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7b-9

St. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh”. I wonder what it was? Perhaps you and I can relate to St. Paul. What might your “thorn in the flesh” be? Maybe you suffer from some kind of illness or disease. Maybe you suffer inwardly with emotional or mental issues. Perhaps there is someone in your life that makes you feel little or insignificant or bullies you? Or maybe you just have a real thorn in your hand right now.

For centuries, scholars have debated about what St. Paul’s “thorn” might have been. I don’t think it matters really. What matters is that St. Paul was suffering and he was weak and he begged God to take the suffering and weakness away and God said “no”. The reality is that on some level, all of us can relate to this. I know in my own life that I have certainly gone through periods of intense pain, either physically or emotionally, and I can clearly remember asking God to either take away or the pain or to let me die. And God said “no”.

I think we might assume that when God says “no” to our requests that He is being mean. Or that He is trying punish us. But the truth is that in our times of suffering or weakness, we can more clearly see that it is God and His grace that we should be dependent on, rather than our own power and actions. It is in the times that we are desperate and knocked down that we have a better view of the world. A view that allows us to see that we are not in control, that we are not the center of the universe, that we are not omnipotent or all-powerful. It is at these times when our realization for something bigger, stronger and more stable than ourselves becomes more acute. It gives us perspective.

As a Christian witness, these times also make us more approachable, relatable and effective in spreading the Gospel. How? Well, most people are intimidated by people who seem to have it all together: the beautiful, the stylish, those ones with the best grades, skills, talents, speaking abilities, etc. People with all sorts of abilities and confidence can make others feel inadequate or insecure. But when we allow our pain and weaknesses—our imperfections—to be seen, people are more apt to confide in us, question us and trust us. Think about how much more beloved Blessed Pope John Paul II became when the signs of his Parkinson’s disease began to show?

The world does not need Christians to be more of the perfect, got-it-all-together, have-no-faults people that Hollywood seems to parade out to us year-after-year, movie-after-movie. In their heart of hearts, most people are looking for other broken human beings that have peace, joy, love and hope, despite their brokenness. When we can embrace our “thorns” instead of trying to hide them or get rid of them, then the power of Christ will work through us to transform the souls of others.

Dear Jesus, I ask you to allow my “thorns” to cause me to rely on You more in my life so that Your power can shine forth to others in need. Let my hope in You, born from my brokenness, bring others closer to You. Amen.

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