My Thorn in the Flesh
*written during Mental Health Awareness Week*
Having experienced bouts of depression in the past, the topic of mental health stays close to my heart.
Over this past month, I have questioned whether I had really overcome what I thought I had. Was I taking steps back to my old being rather than progressing forward? Although I felt downtrodden, that wasn’t necessarily the truth of the matter. Though I felt I was regressing, the fact was that every step I had taken to progress previously still stood.
“Old things have passed away behold all things have become new.” (1 Corinthians 5:17, New King James Version)
My mind was indeed playing tricks on me, my thoughts were trying to imply I was depressed, that I was unable to do what I had previously done before. “I can’t” was very much my most favourable words to use. As much as I was entertaining the negative thoughts, I also knew it wasn’t me, I knew I needed to reclaim my identity. I needed to do it fast. I wasn’t reading the Word very much and being intentional with prayer was challenging. I noticed in moments like these, the challenges arise.
Often when I struggle with negative thoughts or begin to use the words “I can’t,” I need to get realigned because something is not right. I need to begin cultivating a habit of having quiet time in the morning and train my mind to think on things which are true such as the word God, the ultimate truth.
When the depression was at its peak during my time at university I remember crying out to God in the literal sense, a cry from the depths of my pain begging for Him to take the depression away. I prayed that time and time again, but to no avail. It wasn’t that God didn’t hear me and wouldn’t answer. He heard me and He answered, but not in the way I expected. He showed me where Paul spoke about the thorn in his flesh.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NK J V)
I haven’t got to the stage where I boast in my infirmities, but I am still trying to learn to use my weapons of warfare during the battle within my mind. I don’t only want to rely on physical methods, but spiritual methods such as reciting the word of God which I often find difficult when I feel I’m totally on the opposite end of the spectrum to what the word of God is saying.
So What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Take That Pain Away?
I used to pray for God to take the feeling of self-hatred away…the feeling of low self-esteem, I wanted it to disappear. I would say that it never really went away, but the intensity decreased over the years. At a point, it felt nonexistent because I wasn’t focusing on it during periods of my life. I began to observe that the less we focus on the defect, the less space it takes up in our minds and lives. I would also encourage anyone experiencing a thorn like Paul did to always seek a lesson in what God has not removed yet. Ask yourself, “What lesson am I supposed to learn from this?”
The thorn in the flesh is humbling; it kept Paul from being boastful about his abilities and responsibilities. For me, each time I have come under attack in my mind and feelings, it’s the time when I have to re-evaluate myself and check the positioning of my heart. I check if I am being too self-centered, have I been communing with God lately or have I been trying to make it on my own.
Each time I experience this challenge of self-esteem and battling negative thoughts, and I overcome them, I am able to see my strength that keeps on growing. The journey I have gone through to be where I am today has been tough, but I am proud to say I have grown from strength to strength. I am not where I would like to be, but God has me where I should be. I have come a long way from the days of being a recluse, hiding away in my room because of the fear I had toward everything and everyone.
Every time I feel I can’t do it and in a place of weakness, I have to remind myself of 2 Corinthians 12:9 where it says His grace is sufficient for me and His strength is made perfect in my weaknesses. When I am weak, God has given the opportunity to move on my behalf and do His perfect work within me. When you are battling something you feel you have no strength of your own to overcome, trust in God all the more to witness His perfect will be done. See the opportunity rather than the loss and the pain; for when we are weak, He is strong.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.