by Robyn Ferradas
I just finished up a study on 2 Corinthians, and was most impacted by Paul’s discussion in Chapter 12 about the “thorn in his flesh.” Have you ever been pricked by a thorn? Have you ever had a splinter (I know splinters VERY WELL in my line of work!)? Thorns and splinters can be the cause of constant irritation, ache, discomfort, and pain. This is the exact metaphor Paul used to describe a constant struggle he personally faced in his life. Although there may be a hint that his “thorn” was vision impairment, nowhere in the New Testament are we told what Paul’s thorn actually was. What we do know, is that Paul’s constant source of affliction was given or “bestowed upon” him by God, in order to keep him humble and allow God to be glorified through the weakness. Paul asked three times for God to take the thorn away; for God to remove the difficulty, trial, pain, or suffering in his life. But God did not remove it.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, we see some of Paul’s most well-known words, “But He (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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.” Did he actually say he was CONTENT with weaknesses, insults, hardship, persecutions, and calamites? Content? Yes. Paul prayed for his “thorn” to be removed, but once he saw the greater purpose God had in the midst of the affliction, and that it would not be removed, he accepted what God allowed and embraced God’s power being demonstrated through his weak places. He was content. Paul knew that his weakness would allow ALL GLORY in anything he might accomplish to go straight to God. In those moments of utter weakness and Paul’s complete surrender, God’s power could rest upon him. And this is what impacted my heart in such a profound way.
So here’s my story: A few years back, I woke up one morning, and could barely hear out of my right ear. Not the typical ear infection or sick from a cold hearing loss, but a strong pressure and the feeling that I was losing my hearing. Almost the same feeling you might get on an airplane. However, it would not go away. After multiple visits to our family doctor (ear infection, virus, too much wax, etc.), I ended up seeing an ENT specialist, who informed me that very day, that I had a low tone hearing loss in my right ear. I was shocked. I entered that office thinking I’d get an easy fix, and left that office feeling completely defeated. What was causing this? Why was God allowing me to lose my hearing? Would I become completely deaf? How would I be able to continue as a musician without my hearing? But friends, my story does not end there. The cause for my loss was a mystery. Over the next two years, no stone was left unturned on the path toward a diagnosis of possible causes: a tumor, lupus, Crohn’s Disease, Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED); you name it. I had all the blood tests. My hearing was checked monthly. I tried all sorts of medications. I continued to suffer with bouts of tinnitus and fluctuating hearing. And oh, how difficult it was to not know what was causing my hearing loss and to just live in the “unknown.” Yet though years of this strange medical process of elimination, doctors finally arrived at the culprit: Cochlear Meniere’s Disease.
I have no idea what Paul’s “thorn” was, but I can definitely say this illness has truly been a “thorn” in my life. I recognize I do not have as bad of a medical issue as many others – some folks have it much worse. My hearing is only a loss of the low tones, and although it can be frustrating at times, I can still hear generally well. Even the fact that I have the “cochlear” version of Meniere’s, means I do not have to suffer through vertigo. I also deal with intense tinnitus, but I have found some treatments that help to make life manageable. I can see all of the blessings amongst the struggle, and I fully recognize all I have to be thankful for. At the same time, friends, I am human. I deal with my condition on a daily basis, and some days are hard. I’d love for God to remove my thorn! But for this time, and for reasons only God knows completely, He has chosen not to. And like Paul, I have had to learn to accept it: my hearing is a weakness. I do not hear like I used to. I lose sleep due to loud ringing that keeps waking me up from rest. Sometimes the pressure is so strong and the ringing is so loud, I cannot continue my day without white noise in my headphones. Too much noise in loud, public places can also be very irritating and mentally confusing. Yet through it all, I have seen God work. In my moments of despair, God has proven Himself to be faithful. It is really not my own inner strength that keeps me moving forward without constant complaints – it is Him. He teaches me how to be content. He has comforted my soul.
But on top of all of these lessons, I have also seen how God has used my medical condition to teach me how to care for others: To be a friend to someone facing an unknown medical issue, to reach out with compassion to those who are hurting or struggling with their health, and to pray for those who need support through their trial, whatever it may be. Even though my “thorn” has hurt at times and has made me completely aware of my limitations, it is still building in me the lessons I need to be a comfort to others. I mentioned 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 in my previous blog post, but it resonated with me this month, in relation to trials, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ” We CAN comfort others with the comfort with which we have received from God. Is this not a display of His power being made perfect in weakness?
This month’s sign, is truly a reflection of the lessons I continue to learn about pain and weakness and comfort. Pain is a part of life. We will all have the thorns. Yet if we choose, we can also receive God’s comfort. And after we have walked through it all, we can readily share His comfort with others, in a way that says, “I once stood in your shoes; now I stand beside you.”
by Robyn Ferradas
Do you take the time to really see people and know people and seek hearts? I’ve asked myself this question a lot lately, especially in relation to my husband and my kids, and to be honest, the answer is often, “No.” Do I want to? YES! Of course! I want to see what my family members need, and really know them intimately and impact their hearts. This is one of the deepest desires of my heart. Yet this desire does not always translate into action. Why?
A few things come to mind from my own experiences:
Maybe some of the above scenarios resonate with you, or maybe there are other circumstances impacting your ability to see others AND allow them into your heart to see you. Regardless of your personal struggle, God has created the family, He has made us for community, and He does call us to love and serve others. And as Christ-followers, we desperately want this. So what is the key to actually making it happen (or at least heading in that direction)?
I was encouraged the other day with Philippians 1:8, where Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (ESV).” I believe, the secret ingredient to loving and serving and seeing and giving and opening your heart to others, is to do it WITH THE AFFECTION OF CHRIST JESUS. It comes from Him! Often I’m trying to balance my schedule, I’m striving to refocus my time, I’m working through struggles and challenges in my family, I’m pushing to heal from pain in my past. Me, myself, and I. But in what ways am I allowing God to work IN and THROUGH me? In what ways do I love others with the affection of Christ?
The heart of the Gospel tells us that we will never be able to modify our behavior enough or muster the action needed to be “good.” Romans 3:10 tells us, “No one is righteous, no, not one.” This does not mean we can sit around praying and then God will make a miracle happen and we will just automatically love others as He does. God calls us to action and has given us the gift of freewill. However, truly seeing and loving others in spite of challenges, can happen even in the hard moments, when we love WITH THE AFFECTION OF CHRIST JESUS. When the Holy Spirit empowers us to love as Jesus loves. It is not enough to want to it. It is not enough to muster the energy or courage or strength to do it. It must be done with God’s power.
I went to see the movie “Wonder” with my family in December, and was deeply touched by its message. (My daughter and I have since started reading the book as well.) But the last line of the movie pretty much sums up what I'm trying to get at here: “If you really want to see what people are, all you have to do is look.” You have to be willing to look, but with the eyes of Jesus.
by Robyn Ferradas
Post originally featured as a guest piece on Savannah Barr's Joyful Pine blog.
As I considered and prayed about what to contribute to Savannah’s blog, I felt God leading me to write about a topic close to my heart as a woman, a wife and mother, a teacher, and an artist: COMPARISON. It’s an area I have personally struggled with and worked through with the Lord, and an issue I see many women wrestling with alone. But we’re not alone. Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” In no way, have I mastered the struggle of comparison, or “arrived.” However, I’d like to say I have grown some, and I pray these words will be a sweet comfort to your soul, if you are struggling with comparison.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to compare, is “to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences.” And there is nothing wrong with this. She has blonde hair and I have brown hair. His car is big and her car is small. My dad is taller than my mom. This is a SKILL we actually teach children in school – remember learning to use a Venn diagram? We need to know how to do this to navigate in our world. The problem occurs, however, when we begin using comparison to give VALUE. Blonde hair is BETTER THAN brown hair. His big car is NICER than her small car. My mom is WAY TOO short. Each of these comparisons gives value to something based on a measuring stick of personal opinion or worldly standards, and this assigning of value will always be flawed. Our comparison valuing is not based on absolute or concrete Truth.
But an even deeper problem occurs when we aren’t just comparing and assigning value to “things out there,” but to ourselves in relation to others. We’re reading a fashion magazine or scrolling a celebrity website and wishing we were skinnier. We’re looking on Pinterest and thinking about how terrible our house looks in comparison to images we’ve pinned. We’re watching that “perfect mom” with her kids and thinking we should be doing more. I could come up with a bundle of scenarios along these same lines, whether in “real life” or in our relationship to technology and social media. We are comparing ourselves to others and then assigning an arbitrary value, often with very little grace or kindness toward our own hearts. Have you ever played this comparison valuing game?
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I believe he was 100% correct! When we compare ourselves to others, we lose sight of our own gifts, purpose, and calling. We stop seeing who God has made us to be. We forget about our own growth or progress or hard work, because we’ve stopped comparing self to self, and started comparing self to others. Don’t hear me wrong. I am not saying we should not want to improve. We definitely want to get better and grow! God calls us to, “Be holy, as I am holy (1 Peter 1:16),” because excellence brings glory to the Father and leads others to His heart. But at the core of the issue of comparison, is MOTIVE. Why are we comparing? Is it to grow as Christ-followers and bring glory to the Lord, or for some other reason? There are GOOD MODELS out there, and we can work to emulate them. Maybe your health is declining and a fit friend encourages you with an exercise program. Good model, and the Lord does want us to take care of our bodies. Maybe you’ve been struggling to be a patient mom, and you read a parenting book by an expert who gives you tips to improve. Good model, and the Lord does want us to parent well. Maybe you see a co-worker finding success with a particular business strategy, and you begin to implement something similar. Good model, and the Lord does want us to do our work well. It just goes back to heart motive and value placing. We can observe good models in relation to ourselves and seek to improve, without putting ourselves down in the process or developing negative thinking. This allows us to walk our own journey in the season God has us, as He has called, and with joy and genuine growth.
I read 2 Corinthians 10 yesterday, and these words leapt off the page: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding…For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (vv. 12,18).” THE LORD COMMENDS. So why are comparing in the first place? Might I be so bold as to say we are all ultimately looking to fill a deep need for love and approval, but are often using the wrong measure? The measuring stick for all things in life IS based on something absolute and concrete: God. Not personal opinion. Not worldly values. Not another person or thing. As Christ-followers, our measuring stick is God’s Word, and we will always measure up because we have been redeemed and covered by Christ’s work on the cross. Therefore, we should “make it our aim to please Him (2 Cor. 5:9).” We don’t need to worry about comparing ourselves to others, if we keep our eyes on the Lord, first and foremost.
Dear sisters, I know this is not easy. There are days I have felt alone and defeated in a particular area. The comparison bug bites, and I let the poison settle in my heart. I forget to pray, I don’t put on my armor, I spend little time connecting with the Lord, and I focus on how I don’t measure up…all pitfalls on the road to true victory! Yet there have also been more days lately, in which I have felt deep joy in relishing who God has made me to be, and in using my gifts to serve Him (regardless of what anyone else is doing). And I look to Him to for ultimate commendation. An amazing mentor and friend once told me, “Keep your eyes up to God, and then back on your own work bench.” So much truth in her words, right? If we can fix our eyes on Jesus and His measure of grace, and less on comparing our value to others, oh, the joy and purpose to be had! May these Truths settle in your heart today.