Thorns in the Flesh
How many of us have had a sliver or a splinter or a thorn in our finger or hand? These little tiny pieces of wood can cause so much pain and discomfort. They seem to constantly nag us saying, ?I?m here and I?m not going away until you do something about me.? St. Paul speaks of a ?thorn in the flesh? in today?s Epistle Reading, the 19th Sunday from 2Corinthians 11:31-12:9. However, most would agree that Paul was not talking literally about a thorn. Rather, he was speaking metaphorically. So what did the ?thorn? represent to Paul? These could also be thorns in our life.
First, a thorn could be a physical illness or disability. It may be chronic or acute. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders are some examples. Even mental or emotional illnesses like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders can be thorns. Second, a thorn could be a negative tendency within our character. Some may call it a bad habit or even an addiction. The Church Fathers call it a passion. Being quick to anger, greedy, gluttonous, and lustful are some examples. Third, a thorn could be a particular person in our life who is annoying, bothersome, and hurtful to us or to other people. We may even think of them as an enemy. This person could be a family member, a supervisor or a subordinate at work, school mate, or even a fellow parishioner.
Fourth, St. Paul said his thorn was ?a messenger from Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated? (v.7). In addition to the previous three potential types, we could add that a thorn may be a temptation to sin. Not necessarily originating from ourselves but something coming from outside of us, certain thoughts or situations are presented to us randomly or unexpectedly by the Devil and his demons to tempt us towards sin. They may even cause us to despair of God, thinking and believing that He has forsaken us.
How do we deal with thorns in our life? With literal thorns and slivers, we take the tweezers and pluck it out. However, many times the thorns are imbedded so deep, it is very difficult to remove them. This seems to be the predicament St. Paul had with his ?thorn in the flesh? (v.7). First, we must pray to God for Him to remove the thorn. Paul prayed three times that his be taken away (v.8). Looking at the epistle readings from the previous week, we learn that we should pray constantly (Philippians 1:4), pray for ?knowledge and full insight to help us determine what is best? (Ph.1:9-10). We must also pray for patience and strength. Christ answered Paul?s prayer to say ?My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness? (v.9).
Second, in dealing with a ?thorn?, we must reach out towards others. We must turn the focus from your own pain/discomfort towards the pain/discomfort of others. In Friday?s epistle, St. Paul says, ?Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others? (Ph.2:4). Paul also says, to ?bear one another?s burdens? (Galatians 6:2). This mutual concern and sharing expresses the love of Christ and lightens the load for each of us. This is the purpose of the Church, to bring us together, to help each other. We must also reach out to professionals for help and healing. Doctors help with physical ailments, psychologists help with mental and emotional troubles and the priest helps with spiritual sicknesses. We need all of them because are ailments are often inter-related. The body, mind and soul affect one another. Reaching-out also means forgiving and reconciling with the ?thorny? people in our life.
The third way to deal with thorns is to be thankful. We can turn our energy and attention from our pain and suffering towards the joy in our life. St. Paul says, ?I thank my God every time I remember you? (Ph. 1:3). Even more amazing is the example of many Saints who thanked God even for the ?thorny? problems in their life. Why? Because, they realized that the ?thorns? helped them rely more on Christ. Their faith and trust in the Lord deepened while dealing with illnesses, ailments, passions, temptations and people.
In conclusion, as stated earlier, sometimes we cannot just pluck out the thorn. Perhaps doesn?t want us to pluck it out. When it?s deep and embedded in our life, we must soak it, disinfect it (in other words, strengthen the tissue around it) and wait patiently for it to work itself out according to God?s will and our obedience to His commandments. Through this we understand, as Paul did, that thorns are given or allowed by God to overcome pride and help us lean more on Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. In 2Cor.13:10, just after today?s passage, St. Paul says, ?For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.? Amen.