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.”