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.
I keep returning to a theme which is recurrent with me. If there’s anything we humans don’t care for, it’s living a life that seems to fall short of its potential. We don’t like handicaps, today called challenges, and we will do what is necessary to find our way back to normalcy. That was true for Paul, who pleaded with the Lord three times to remove the thorn in the flesh which was tormenting him, even a messenger from Satan. It is interesting in Paul’s case that this thorn was “given” not by Satan, but seemingly through Satan by the Lord, to keep Paul from being conceited because of the greatness of the revelations he had received, far beyond that of others.
In my case it seems that there’s some relationship between mistakes of the past, and what troubles me in the present. What I’m thinking of is not great sin, but lack in wisdom, as well as the limitations inherent in living as a broken (or, fallen) human in a broken world. Because of the gaffes we might make, completely unknowingly, acting on the best we think we know, even if there are other motives which ought to slow us down, and even stop us in our tracks, we sometimes suffer.
In Paul’s case, again, the thorn was given to keep him humble. While I certainly never have had anything near the great revelations Paul had, I surely am more prone to pride than he was, so that even a little bit of “success” can easily go to my head. I know that all too sadly to be the case. Therefore I need to learn to live well in the hard place, in the place I would escape from in a day, in an hour, immediately, if I could. Instead I need to settle in, so that I can begin to perceive and see the benefit of the hard place. And beyond what I could possibly appreciate on my own, even learn to rejoice in such a hard place, and the limitations and debilitations present in them, since Christ’s strength is made known in ways which otherwise would be lost.
And so that is my assignment, so to speak right now. To learn to live better, even well, in the midst of consternation and difficulty. While at the same time praying to the Lord for his mercy, while we look forward to the day when such difficulty will be no more.