Dealing With Thorns in the Flesh

Dealing With Thorns in the Flesh

What’s your thorn in the flesh?

A chronic health issue? A broken past that haunts you? A burden you carry daily?

Perhaps the more important question is: How do you respond to it?

Does it drive you away from God? Or does it drive you closer to Him?

I have been blessed by the Lord with a relatively easy life.

I grew up with parents who faithfully provided for me.

I married a gentle, kind and godly man.

I had three wonderfully unique children.

I was a part of a thriving church community.

I did work I loved.

Life was busy, but it was good.

I took it for granted.

So when Anah entered our home in 2012, I was in for the shock of my life. The needs and pressures that came with her care rocked this generally peaceful existence.

All the orderly rhythms went out the door as we tried to avoid toilet accidents.

My marriage suffered great rifts.

There was little of me available to care for my other children beyond doing the basics—and even that was a struggle.

I felt estranged in my church, ashamed to admit I didn’t love my daughter but resented her.

And I dreaded getting up every morning to do this all again.

There was a period in my life—longer than I care to admit—that I seriously entertained the idea of cancelling my commitment to adopt. I even went so far as to Google how to return her so that life could go back to normal again.

I wanted my old life back again.

But deep inside, I also knew that wasn’t the way to go.

Now that I met Anah, life would never be back to normal, even if I found a way to settle her into another family.

So what do we do with these thorns in the flesh? How do we bear them well?

Well, I can tell you what not to do.

Don’t close yourself off from relationships—from others, but most importantly, from God.

When I shut God out of my heart, I lived out of my old, unredeemed nature.

That old nature believed that there is no God.

Or worse, I believed that I was the Queen of my own universe.

And so I did whatever would please that Queen.

God became my enemy. And I fought Him.

Not a good idea.

I will always lose. Always.

So back to my question: What do we do with these thorns in the flesh?

Who has borne them well?

You probably know where I’m going with this.

Go back with me to that lonely garden of Gethsemane.

Here, our Savior anticipated the prickliest of all thorns—bearing the weight of our sin, the brokenness of our world, the darkness of death.

And He did an amazing thing.

He asked His Father to remove the suffering.

Not just once, but three times.

Right off the bat, He approached His thorns differently. In His times of grief and despair, He did not turn inward to His own devices like we do.

He turned outward, upward, to His Father.

Action point number one: Take your thorns to the Father.

Don’t sugar coat them with pious words.

Don’t cower in shame because you cannot handle them.

Don’t try to figure out your own solutions or waste your energy coming up with a way of escape.

Just tell Him the truth: I don’t want this thorn! Please remove it from me!

What strikes me is that He didn’t just ask it once.

When He got the first “no” he asked again. And again.

But it was clear that the Father was not going to answer this prayer the way He wished.

And so He did the next thing: He submitted to it.

He let the thorns be pressed into Him. He allowed the nails to pierce His flesh.

Action point number two: Submit to Him in the midst of that pain.

We live in a broken world. Why do we expect paradise here?

I don’t know why I thought that bringing in a child who not only had a physical condition but also a broken past would be easy.

Maybe I watched Anne of Green Gables one too many times and thought it would turn out well.

It has taken me a long time, but six years later, I am finally learning to submit to this reality.

This brings me to the third point.

For three long hours, Jesus bore the weight of the thorns—our sin and shame—on His own body. He endured the verbal arrows that were shot at Him.

He did not retaliate. He did not shake His fist at His Father.

Even in the lowest point, when the Father turned away from Him, and He was in agony, He committed His spirit to Him.

He looked to the joy on the other side of the suffering and stayed the course, enduring the pain, entering into the realities with his whole heart. (Heb. 12:2)

And so there it is.

Action point number three: Focus on the joy on the other side and commit to staying the course.

Know that in the most bitter of moments, when the thorn bites the deepest, there is a Savior who understands.

You are not alone.

With Christ, our whole experience can be reframed.

When I stop trying to escape, fix, or stoically endure by my own strength and instead open myself up to Him, He is then able to enter into that wasteland of despair.

I can then find victory even when I hit rock bottom, feel frustration at the lack of change, or experience the sting of reality.

Instead, I can enter in to the pain, continue to love when it is hard, and trust that I have made the right choice.

Instead of fighting. Instead of whining. Instead of running away.

When I choose to bear with patience, sacrifice with love, and continue with faithfulness, He can transform me.

Through Anah, He can teach me this truth: For when I am weak, I am strong. His grace for me in this moment makes it so. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

In His way, in His time, He can and He will shine light into that darkness. He will bring order to the chaos. And He will fill that which is empty with life.

I hope it doesn’t take you six years to learn this. I share this so that you might cut some corners in your experience.

Some thorns may never go away. For as long as Anah lives (or as long as I do), I will feel the pain of our adoption.

One day, it will not just end well, but gloriously.

That is just the way God does things.

But until that day, I want to learn how to stop fighting. I want to learn how to enter into this thorny territory. I want to experience the grace that is made strong in weakness.

So, what are you going to do with your thorns?  

Looking Back in My Journal

Book Review: Good and Angry by David Powlison

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