“… there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…” 2 Corinthians 12:7
As we approach the nine month mark of Sarah’s home going, we seem to be hearing more people routinely mentioning our “healing” as something they believe has already taken place to one degree or another. As I’ve continued to ponder and pray about the concept of our healing I believe the Lord has continued to instead confirm an alternate concept I first shared in July. While I do not believe we will be healed this side of heaven, I am confident God will continue to faithfully sustain us. He will continue upholding us by His righteous right hand, and strengthening us to endure and adapt (Isa. 41:10). I was recently reminded of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and it resonated in a new way with the pain of Sarah’s absence.
With bone crushing pain Satan struck and pierced us on June 8th, 2017. Like the fang of his bite, he thrust his thorn deeply and painfully into our flesh. He left it there as his messenger of torment, a reminder that we have a strong and cunning adversary intent on stealing, killing and destroying.
Like Paul, I pleaded repeatedly with the Lord, begging Him to remove the painful thorn, but instead He gently spoke to my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” The thorn torments, distresses and weakens me. I am broken by the thorn.
“Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 [NASB]
The piercing wound of the thorn of Sarah’s absence hurts no less today than it did the day it was inflicted. What appears to some to be our healing is instead the grace of God’s upholding strength shining through our weakness and brokenness. When the peace and contentment of His sustaining grace are presumed to be the result of “healing” it diminishes the power of what God is doing in sustaining us. He is miraculously strengthening us to bear up under the weight of the thorn and the pain that remain constant. The miracle of His sustaining grace is that we are actually sustained to experience peace, contentment and even joy in the midst of the pain. To presume the thorn and the pain must be removed or diminished through healing in order to allow peace and joy to enter in is to deny the miraculous nature and power of the provision of our Sustainer. To the contrary, through His sufficient grace, His power in me makes me “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;” 2 Corinthians 4:7 [NASB]
The thorn requires me to adapt just as if it were a tangible, visible thorn protruding from my flesh. A physical thorn would bring unique vulnerabilities and a need to avoid certain motions and activities. So also, my thorn brings with it unique vulnerabilities that I must be cognizant of. Part of my adapting involves realizing that there is a very delicate balance to my pain and His sustaining grace. My experiencing the sufficiency of His sustaining grace is directly related to my obedience to fix my focus on the eternal rather than the temporal (2 Cor. 4:18), and to “approve the things which are excellent” and dwell on them (Phil. 1:10; 4:8). I am adapting to my thorn by learning it is acceptable and wise for me to move away from or avoid, whenever possible, situations and interactions that unfruitfully bump, push or twist the thorn of Sarah’s absence. Unfruitful situations and interactions are those that magnify the temporal rather than the eternal by unduly drawing my focus to Sarah’s physical death and absence rather than her life, her testimony and His provision for us.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11 [NASB]
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8 [NASB]
Similarly, I must also adapt to the reality that bearing the thorn depletes my emotional and physical strength. I must be very thoughtful and, more importantly, prayerful about what I commit to each day. I long to walk righteously, and the thorn is a constant reminder that the only way to do so is to walk in the center of His will where His grace abounds. The thorn brings an urgent awareness that I must continually seek His will to wisely steward the strength He alone provides. I am adapting to the thorn by learning I must inquire of the Lord first before committing to anything, even seemingly inconsequential things. Recognizing and adapting to my weaknesses allows me to function within His grace and strength in a manner that some may view as healing.
The Lord has confirmed this thorn in my flesh will not be removed. The pain of my separation from Sarah will not end here, I will not be healed this side of heaven. But, praise God, there is coming a day when this corrupt flesh will be stripped away, and this thorn along with it. On that marvelous day, in the twinkling of an eye, I will be gloriously set free when my flesh and my thorn fall away as temporal chaff. I will be instantaneously transformed in the presence of my precious Savior and Lord, and with joy inexpressible I will be reunited with my sweet Sarah.
In the meantime, I will not deny or hide the ongoing reality of the pain, distress, weakness and brokenness the thorn of Sarah’s absence brings. Instead, I will humbly acknowledge its painful impact as the bleak backdrop upon which His grace and strength are gloriously displayed through His powerfully and miraculously sustaining us. Our otherwise inexplicable contentment, peace and joy is the power of Christ in us, for His glory. My thorn remains. I am not healed, but I am lovingly, graciously and miraculously sustained by God, my Helper and the Sustainer of my soul. (Psalm 54:4).
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 [NASB]
Artwork: Sarah Harmening