A Thorn in Your Side

I spend a lot of time talking about how God can heal brokenness in people’s lives. Heck I wrote an entire book on it! But there is one part of the book that is perhaps the most difficult to accept and that’s when God decides not to heal you for reasons only He knows and understands. This is extremely difficult for those who suffer physical, emotional, and even spiritual pain. So let’s take a minute and talk about why our loving God may make decisions that to us seem unloving.

Isn’t that really how we feel sometimes? Have you ever heard someone say, “If God loves me why is He making me go through this?” Or even more common, “If God is love why is there so much suffering in the world?” These are legitimate questions, and more importantly legitimate feelings, that need to be addressed.

First I’ll admit that I have no idea how or what God thinks! Scripture tells us that God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). In fact we are told that we cannot even search the mind of God (Romans 11:34). But we do have scripture that tells us a lot about God, who He is, and how He acts. We also have our own experiences with God that should tell us a lot as well.

Our first clue is in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. The apostle Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth, explaining how he pleaded with God three times to relieve him of a “thorn in his side.” Apparently Paul was suffering some issue and wanted God to heal him. Now remember, this is Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles chosen by Jesus himself for this mission. So what was God’s answer to his most powerful apostle? “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” In other words, “No, you get to continue to suffer so that instead of you relying on your own strength you rely on me instead.”

Bummer, huh? Perhaps you have had a Paul moment, I know I have. I suffer from a variety of chronic conditions for which there is no cure just medications that help manage the symptoms. Some years ago I had about half my stomach removed due to an ulcer caused by medication which has caused me several unfortunate conditions. I also have arthritis in most my major joints that causes chronic pain. I recently added migraine headaches to the mix to round it out! And God has not healed any of it! And I know why.

Before my injuries and conditions I took great pride in my athletic ability. I wasn’t great at anything, but I was very good at a couple things, including the martial arts. Having grown up in 12 different homes where some had violence, I learned the martial arts as a young adult so I could protect myself – I had a conditioned fear due to my experiences as a child where I was very fearful of others hurting me. The martial arts were a way for me to take control of that situation. As I got more and more proficient I also got more and more focused on me and my abilities and not God. So God “fixed” that.

I no longer can train or teach the martial arts because my condition has progressed to a point where simple movements are painful. I was a bit panicked when I realized I was losing my ability to protect myself and that’s when God stepped in and said, “My grace is sufficient.” What God wanted from me was for me to rely on Him to protect me and to eventually learn through healing that I had nothing to fear in the first place. God did not heal me the way we all think about healing; he did something better. He healed my mind even though he left my body kind of a wreck.

And that’s the point I want to drive home. When God says no he usually has something better in store for you or others. Let me tell you another story that might help illustrate what I’m talking about.

My mother had multiple sclerosis. I am told by a relative that when she was pregnant with me her doctors told her that if she carried me to term her MS would be significantly affected and the best thing for her would be to abort me. She was raised Catholic and refused – and she never walked again after I was born.

Mom’s condition deteriorated to the point where she was completely bedridden and lived her final years in a nursing home wasting away in body and mind. I don’t believe my mother did anything to deserve such a miserable 20 years, and I used to pray and ask God not just to heal her but why he would do such a thing to her, leaving me and my sisters without a mother.

It wasn’t until years later that I understood. My childhood was not ideal. My father was in and out of jail and I suffered a reasonable amount of abuse and neglect. But I remember telling myself that nothing I was going through was as bad as what my mother was enduring, and that if she could make it so could I. In fact, I vowed that I would go to college so I could get a good enough job so I could take her out of the nursing home to spend her last years with me caring for her.

Unfortunately that last part didn’t work out – mom died while I was a junior in college. But her suffering was not in vain. Through it I was able to gain strength and survive all the various troubles I encountered and eventually become the person God created me to be so He could use me for His good purpose. Without my mother going through what she went through I would not have survived going through what I went through. Sometimes our personal suffering is not actually meant for us but is a means by which God uses us for others.

I know people who suffer with mental illness, emotional trauma, and physical disabilities that they wish God would heal but the answer to date has been no. If that is your situation here’s the question you need to ask yourself: How is God using my situation for good? See God brings good out of everything for those who love him (Romans 8:28), but sometimes we are so blinded by looking inward at our troubles that we forget to look upward toward God to see what He’s actually doing…or wants us to do if we’d just get over ourselves.

Maybe you are giving strength to someone else through your situation

Maybe you are being trained by God to turn to Him instead of yourself

Maybe you are setting an example on Godly living to someone

Maybe you are being prepared for your next blessing

Maybe you need an attitude adjustment and God is just waiting for you to come to Him

I don’t know, really. But I do know that Adam and Eve suffered some, Moses suffered some, David suffered some, all the prophets suffered some, all the disciples suffered some, and Jesus suffered a lot. It tells me that God does not look at suffering like we do. It tells me that Jesus was right to say that in this world we will have trouble and that we should be concerned about our heavenly rewards not our worldly rewards. And it tells me that God’s expectation of us is that we rely on Him in all things, because we simply cannot manage our pain by ourselves.

Here’s my challenge to you today – If you are someone you know is suffering and God has told you “No, I’m not going to heal you the way you want me to” then meditate a little on what you think God is really doing in your life through your suffering. Pray that God reveals to you His plan in your suffering. Ask that He enable you to both endure your pain and use it for some good purpose. Lastly – and this is important but hard – don’t give your pain more value that it deserves. Don’t let it determine who you are; allow God to transform you into the person He created you to be!

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