When I am Weak, I am strong
In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud! About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’
So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.
2 Cor 12:7-10.
Do you have a thorn in your side? A thorn in your side, or as St. Paul called it, ‘a thorn in the flesh’, is a painful thing and continues to hurt as long as it remains there. St. Paul said that the thorn caused him great distress, but he did not say exactly what the thorn was. It may have been a physical ailment, or it may have been the hostile people who caused him continuous trouble. Each of us can name the thorn in our own side - who it is, or what it is.
The thorn keeps us humble.
St. Paul was a patient man, and was used to having a hard time, so he was able to see that the thorn had done him some good. He had an extraordinary spiritual experience – he said he was taken up to the third heaven, to paradise, and heard things that cannot be put into words – this might have made him proud, but the thorn in his flesh kept him humble.
Maybe the thorn in your life has served the same purpose. We are quick to imagine we are better than others and a cut above them. Then a thorn comes into our lives, an illness or something that embarrasses or shames us. We are brought down to earth and forced to admit that we are no better than anyone else. The thorn that leads us to that discovery may have served us well.
My grace is enough for you
St. Paul wanted to be rid of the thorn, so he prayed, and he prayed, and he prayed. The thorn remained but God gave him a surprising answer: ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ That answer made all the difference to Paul. Now he was content to accept that particular thorn, and not only that one but all the other thorns he had to deal with: ‘insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies’ as well as all his own weaknesses. When he accepted that he was weak, the power of Jesus came over him, and then he was strong.
Sometimes it is not clear whether God wants us to continue to pray to be rid of a thorn or to accept it. There are thorns that we should not accept, like domestic violence and physical or sexual abuse. If we face such evils, we pray and we ask for help and guidance from trusted friends or relatives, or from the Social Services or the Police. It may be in such firm and courageous action that God answers this urgent prayer.
At other times of doubt, the Serenity Prayer may serve us well:
God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change;
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
A crown of thorns.
If you find it difficult to accept the thorn in your life, you may be consoled to remember that Jesus did not find it easy either. In his public ministry he was constantly opposed by the Scribes and Pharisees, the very ones who knew the Scriptures and should have supported him wholeheartedly. The people who listened to him and saw him perform miracles, constantly disappointed him through their lack of faith. In exasperation, he said, ‘You faithless generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?’