When I was going through my "dark night of the soul" a few months ago, God graciously gave me several songs that seemed to speak His love and presence directly into my situation. I hadn't listened to them in awhile, preferring my newest mix of joyful, hopeful, grateful songs that express my current heart-cry. I pulled out those songs the other day and was completely awed and overwhelmed by how God had so beautifully and graciously and specifically kept the promises these songs proclaim. I recalled so vividly the utter despair, the deep discouragement and emotional pain and turmoil of that time (still not all that long ago). All I can do is marvel at what God has done.
However, I find myself getting frustrated and impatient - again. Yes, I've been completely set free from the shame that was colouring and clouding my whole life - hallelujah! I'm more free than I've ever been, more secure and satisfied in God's love for me than ever before - it's absolutely awesome! But the euphoria from my miraculous liberation is wearing off a bit and my focus is shifting to other parts of my life; parts from which I have not been "delivered", where I'm still enslaved and failing. I keep forgetting that this life is a journey, not a race to get to perfection and then camp out there for as long as possible. Believe me, that mindset only leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction and discontent.
I've been thinking about Paul and his "thorn in the flesh" and wondering if there are any parallels to my own issues. Many have taken educated guesses as to what Paul's particular "thorn" might have been, but the Bible doesn't give us that information (on purpose, I think, because of the universal principle at hand). We do learn that Paul asked God to remove it - 3 different times - and that God didn't. When I imagine Paul's and God's interaction regarding this "thorn", I don't see Paul having a calm, quiet conversation with his Maker, somehow...I think it was more of a begging, pleading, crying out from a place of weakness and pain, last resort, end-of-his-rope kind of communication; desperate, each plea more impassioned and frantic than the one before. And the picture seems to me a bit of a paradox. I mean, this is Paul, the great apostle, teacher, leader, missionary, and all around man of faith. If anyone should be able to trust that God knows what He's doing, it's him, right? But no. Whether it was due to severe pain or embarrassment or that he felt his ministry was being hindered or compromised or something else entirely, Paul chose to question God's wisdom in giving him this "thorn". And not only did he question God's wisdom in the giving of the thorn, but he went on to question God's decision to leave the thorn intact after Paul had begged for its removal!
We know the end of the story - at least in part. Paul reports God's response in the well-known and oft-repeated words of 2 Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." A beautiful promise for when we can't see past our many weaknesses to God's great strength. I've found comfort and peace in these words time and time again. But I wonder a bit about the rest of Paul's days. We have to assume that he lived the rest of his life with this thorn constantly poking at him, bringing to mind his desperate pleading and God's amazing promise. Do you suppose he ever got to the point of not fighting it, where he accepted it for what it was and even thanked God for it, for how it kept him humble, for how it constantly compelled him to rely on God's power and sovereignty and not on his own?
I'm not sure how this fits with my own particular issues, or yours, for that matter. All I know is that there are things that God chooses to deliver us from, and things that He chooses to allow to remain. To acknowledge this mystery and come to a place of peace with our infirmities and challenges is, I think, yet another step along the path to knowing real joy.