2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV) …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 struggle with periods of deep, soul wrenching sadness. Therapists give me a variety of unhappy diagnosis: depression, dysthymia, post-traumatic-stress syndrome. But my own diagnosis is grief, long, enduring grief from losses that lay buried deep in my soul. Conversely, I also live in the hope that one day God will restore to me that which was lost. Perhaps not necessarily in a physical way, but at least in an emotional or spiritual way. That which some call “closure.” (1. see Isaiah 61:3; 2. Matthew 5:4)
I question my own grief. Why grieve for something I can do nothing about? I blame myself, blame others, question God. I throw myself into busyness, only to be overtaken by intense pangs of pain during quiet periods. I sabotage the good things in my life, over-eating, under eating, shopping, over-spending, over-medicating, isolating, burying my face in one book after another, trying to lose myself in some fictional character so as not to deal with reality. At one time in my life, I over-cleaned, scrubbed every part of the house, or I would cook and bake for days at a time. But physically I can’t do those things anymore. Then because I can’t do those things in the same manner anymore, I sit in my self-made pity parties and mope. These are all such destructive coping methods. I know this, and am very aware that I do this, but I do them anyway. (3. see Romans 7:15-21)
Some would point to a shame based personality, riddled with guilt. There is some truth in that analysis. Some guilt is from things that I have done. Some guilt is actually shame based on things I have not done, because I have been a victim of others’ actions. For some reason I blame myself for my own pain. I know that God has forgiven me, but there are people that haven’t. There are also people who judge me based on my past, making conclusions that just are not true.
So I struggle with relationship issues. Making friends is difficult for me. The few friends that I have, I hold dear to my heart. I have learned over the years that I must keep many of my heavy feelings to myself, so as to not overwhelm others. In the past, overwhelming others has often led to alienation by others. Alienation by others results in more pain. So I am cautious in making friends, and I am careful with whom I share my pain. (4. See Philippians 2:14-16)
Why, you ask, would a God-fearing Christian admit in writing about such feelings?
My answer is, because I am not alone. Being a Christian does not release us from the pain of living, from sadness, loss, or grief. One only has to read the book of Job, or the trials of the people of Israel, the Psalms of David, or the persecutions of the apostles, to know that Christians do not escape the trials and tribulations of human suffering. We all have our trials and crosses to bear. Each of us bears our struggles differently, and each of us carries a different load. Some of us carry scars that reach into deep caverns, some are only scratches. Sometimes our paths intersect with the secular world in rather odd ways. Perhaps for some, this is to help us be examples to those who don’t have the hope that we have. Perhaps in the way we suffer, we can provide just one positive ray of hope for someone else.
I remind myself of the Paul’s statement that three times he begged for God to remove the “thorn in his flesh”, but God chose not to heal him. Paul never tells us what that thorn in the flesh was. But Paul lived, and he fought and he continued to spread the gospel to the world, despite his pain and suffering. He was bold, always speaking honestly and forthrightly about his own life, and into the lives of others. (5. See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
I strive to follow Paul’s boldness. When it comes to mental health, I am not ashamed that I struggle in this area. This is the challenge that God has given to me. I am learning to embrace it and appreciate the depth of feeling that this “thorn in the flesh” invokes in me. I know that whether I am in the valley of darkness, or the heights of a mountaintop, God is there with me. I am never alone, and I will survive. (6. Psalm 23)
- Matthew 5:4 (KJV) Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Isaiah 61:3 (Amplified) To grant consolation and joy to those who mourn in Zion – to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment(expressive) of praise instead of a heavy, burdened and failing spirit – that they may be called oaks of righteousness (lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God), the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
- Romans 7:15-21 (NIV) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. …. (18) For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. …(21) So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
- Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV) Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV) …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.
- Psalm 23 (Oh, go get your Bible and read the whole thing!!!!)