When I was a little girl, I was running in church trying to do something quickly to help my dad. There was an all-glass door going to an alley that led to the children’s area. In my hurry, I pushed the glass of the door instead of the metal frame, and I ran right through it! I was in total shock, unsure of what had just happened, when I realized that my hand really hurt and was bleeding. I had been cut!
My hand was treated with some antibiotic ointment and a bandaid, and it felt better. But a few days later, I noticed that it wasn’t fully healing. It turned out that a small piece of glass was embedded into my palm, and it couldn’t heal while there was still glass in there. While the antibiotic ointment and the bandaid did some to ease the pain, my wound could never heal as long as there was still glass in there.
God has been doing some hardcore work in my life lately. It’s all related to this one, small, seemingly minuscule area in my life. I have this one particular little hurt – like glass in a wound – my thorn, we’ll call it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what it specifically is, because I know we all have these little thorns that are quite deeply rooted and are impossible to release. We just can’t heal, even with some antibiotic ointment or a bandaid, until the thorn is removed. I am writing this to help myself process the pain of this thorn and to speak about what God is teaching me through this.
IGNORE (Hint: This doesn’t work.)
For a while, the thorn hurt a lot. I didn’t understand it, so I tried ignoring it. Maybe I was just being a baby, and it just wasn’t as serious as I thought, so I just needed to let it go and move on. I spent a long time pretending like it wasn’t even there. The thing is, though, just like a physical injury that gets infected, ignoring it isn’t always the best route. Even without really noticing it, the thorn kept poking into other areas of my life. It infected my feelings about others, my feelings about God, and especially my feelings about myself. Because of this thorn, I started to believe some things.
I truly started to believe that God doesn’t want me to be blessed in this area. He doesn’t want my thorn gone. I still believe this in some ways, and I fight myself every day about it. Even though the bible commands this particular thing should go a certain way, I find myself believing that, for me, it isn’t supposed to happen, and I’m supposed to have to endure this unfair thorn forever. I honestly am still not sure about this one – it is tricky to determine exactly which pains are ones we’re supposed to endure for the end result of faith and perseverance, and which ones are simply a result of the sin in this world. This is one of those where I can’t tell. Or is it both? I’m at a loss. But here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
I truly started to believe that this thing is hurting me because I’m not a worthy person. I still believe that I have a very annoying personality, and I need to carefully edit each thing I say and do and how I react. I still believe that I should just avoid others because my ugly personality will eventually turn them off of wanting to know me. This is another tricky one – because of sin, there are definitely things that need to be edited in myself. There are parts of me that are unworthy and sinful and just plain bad. I’m not inherently good, and I think scripture makes that pretty clear. But it is a tough thing to determine if this thorn is based on how I’m sinful or if it’s based on something I need to learn about God. Or maybe it’s also both? I just can’t tell, so here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
REPLACE (Hint: This is a much better plan.)
When I started to see how this tiny pain was creating much more significant wounds in other areas, I tried to go another route. The medicine route, I call it. I tried to see the truth past the hurt – the definite truth that doesn’t change based on the sin of the world. I tried exchanging my sorrow for the joy of the Lord – focusing on blessings and thankfulness and peace instead. I tried listing all the provision of God in my life and praising him for it. I tried spending time with him everyday, starting and finishing my day with his greatness in my mind. I tried thinking of how worthy and sinless and perfect He is, and how worth it it’ll be to trade everything else for Him. He is the only important thing, so a little thorn just doesn’t matter that much.
I think this is all true. Some real wisdom and maturity has come into my life since I started doing this method instead of the “ignore it” method. The times of joy are certainly outweighing the sorrow now – the despairing moments from the ache of the thorn are much fewer and far between. The discomfort of the thorn reminds me of my Jesus and what he has done for me, so I’m *almost* glad for it.
WHAT ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN REPLACING IT DOESN’T WORK?
But then little things happen that stinkin’ thorn really starts to nag, and that makes me come to terms with something more awful now. I’m realizing that I am clinging to my thorn, and I don’t want it to go away. Not sweetly because it reminds me of my Jesus, but like a toddler who doesn’t want to change his bandaid! I don’t want it to go away until there is justice. I don’t know how to lay it at the altar. The ugliest, dirtiest part of my sin comes out as I face this demon:
I think I’m right in this situation. I think there has been injustice here, and the deepest parts of me want to see that justice come to fruition. I want to see others experience this thorn that I’m experiencing. I so badly want other people to feel and understand just how painful my thorn is, even if that means they have to experience the thorn, too. I also deeply, deeply feel that I don’t deserve to have to go through this. Talking as a fool, my soul says, “Haven’t I been through enough, going through suffering in the name of Jesus just by the family I was born into and their service to the Lord? Hasn’t it been enough to be pulled around the country my whole childhood, never making roots, never having deep connections, always dealing with the drama of sinful church-goers, suffering the consequences of other people’s sin and selfishness my whole life even during my more innocent childhood? Hasn’t it been enough to experience great heartache through losses of friends and family members without any shoulders to cry on because we’ve had to be the rock of faith in these times? Hasn’t it been enough to have been shunned and pushed aside constantly by those who claim to be believers or to have true believers put up walls because they’re afraid of what I’ll report to the church hierarchy? Hasn’t it been enough to be in second place in absolutely every area that I show any promise in? Even in my great, undeniable, incredibly privileged life, haven’t I suffered enough that I shouldn’t need this thorn, too?” I’m so embarrassed that I feel this way. I’m ashamed that my soul is so ugly. I see the irony in my words – the ridiculousness that I even consider my life to be hard at all. But I truly, deeply feel these poisonous thoughts – and many more than these listed.
Even deeper than that, I want so incredibly badly for my pain to be healed the way I want it to be healed, but it will not be. That’s the twist of the knife. I’m never going to get what I want in this. It is never going to happen. Never. I will likely live another 50-65 years on this earth without this ending the way I want it to. It is an enormous struggle to figure out whether I’m supposed to keep fervently praying for the result I want or just give up. The bible teaches both sides of this – fervent prayer for our wants and also total surrender. The easy answer is that we’re supposed to fervently pray for what we want but also be totally cool with never getting it. Yeah, that’s the truth, but that is not easy at all. When something is the deepest, aching-est, most inner-circle desire of your heart, it isn’t so easy as just praying the thorn away.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33:
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
I think it’s fair to say that Paul went through a bit more than me. But then he goes on at the beginning of chapter 12 to talk about a vision that he saw. He knows that the vision was a great one, and something that he could certainly be very proud about having. And then in the middle of verse 7:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I read this, I always get a little annoyed for Paul. I feel like it isn’t right that he had to go through all that stuff mentioned in chapter 11 just to turn around and still get a thorn in his flesh that nagged him, too. I can’t help but notice, though, that he says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” It does make sense that one might want to brag about all the pain they’ve experienced in Jesus’s name. I certainly feel that pull! Look what I literally just did in the above paragraph, where I listed all the things that I feel are unjust about my life! Even after all that pain, Paul still needed a thorn to put him in his place. I certainly do, too.
God didn’t take away the thorn! God’s answer, after three days of torment, was that his grace was enough. I know this is what God is trying to teach me with my thorn, too. His grace is enough. I should delight in these things I experience because my weaknesses point to Christ’s strength. It’s about Him, anyway. His strength is what matters. His name is what matters.
BUT THAT SUCKS and is very hard to come to terms with because of my sinful pride, and it makes me mad. Again, I’m ashamed that I feel this way. I don’t want to admit it. But I bet you feel this, too, somewhere, and it might help you to see that someone else feels the ache of injustice in all of the mess that is this world. The great humility that it takes to be okay with God’s way when everything seems so messed up is something I haven’t figured out yet, which is why I know I need it.
Oh teach me, dear Teacher, to embrace my thorn. Teach me to thank you for my thorn. Teach me to dwell in the glory of your power instead of mine. Teach me to dismiss my need for justice and take on gratitude that I have your grace. You holy, all-knowing, compassionate, wonderful Father – help me to see your grace in this thorn. Help me figure out how to lay it at your feet. In your incredible joy, allow me to release my grief. In your all-consuming peace, allow me to release my anger. In your unending mercy, allow me to embrace my thorn.
We had to pull that piece of glass out of my hand that was stuck there. I remember that it hurt a whole lot. Now, when I look at my hand, I can’t even see the scar from where it was. There is no residual pain from the wound. It’s just a fond memory of my silly hurriedness. Thank you, Jesus, for heaven, where all of our thorns will be gone, healed perfectly by Jehovah Rapha, as we stand with new bodies in your presence. You are so good.