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The Boy with the Thorn in His Side

The summer of ’06 was a summer I’ll never forget … but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of relaxing on the beach, drinking margaritas, and basking in the warm summer air, all I could do was focus on was the ugliness of life. Everything seemed so absurd and insignificant. Nothing mattered anymore. Even the simplest joys, like hearing a great song on the radio, gave me no comfort. All I wanted to do was just sleep and not wake up until it was all over. And it all started with the silliest thing in the world: an Armageddon book written by a hack writer!

Earlier that year I came across a book called The Bible Code. It claimed that there are secret prophecies hidden in the Hebrew Torah, and one could discover these prophecies by rearranging the letters in a certain way. Basically it’s kind of like Boggle; just rearrange some letters and find some words. The book claimed that this “code” predicted 9/11, Katrina, the Gulf War, the time I stubbed my toe on the edge of a coffee table last week, etc. But the big prediction was that in 2006, the world would blow itself up in a nuclear holocaust.

I’ve had anxiety disorder since I was a child, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that anxiety has a weird way of making the most insane ideas seem reasonable. It first starts off with the tiniest little what if. Then you wonder if that what if has some bit of truth to it, and you start debating it in your head. The next thing you know this tiny little what if turns into a maybe. So you think about it more, and the more you think about it, the bigger it grows. Before you know it, this thought has now become a huge monster chasing you, and you’re trapped in a corner. You can feel its hot breath in your face as it prepares to swallow you whole.

So even though the source of the anxiety was completely silly, the anxiety itself was far from it. I woke up nearly every morning shivering and throwing up. My muscles were tense. I constantly had to use the restroom. Nothing could relax me or soothe me. It didn’t matter that I had a great girlfriend, or that I just started a great full-time job, or whatever other blessings I had. At any second it could all be over, regardless of what was going on with my life. Maybe I was being selfish, but it seemed that God enjoyed watching me agonize over my mortality.

This lasted for about three months. Finally one morning as I was throwing up from being so nervous, I said, “Enough.” I was sick of the nausea, the tense muscles, and the shaking. This isn’t the way God wants me to live! The first step I took was talking to my doctor. He prescribed Effexor to me, and it helped with the nausea, but negative thoughts still occupied my mind. I then started reading the Bible more, underlining scriptures that dealt with worry, and had them memorized. A particular favorite was Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future” (TNIV). I would repeat this verse over and over in my mind, and really thought about what it meant. God had been so good to me in the past. Why did I think He would suddenly abandon me? So with a little thought readjustment (along with rereading The Bible Code and realizing how full of crap it was), my anxiety slowly eased and life became more bearable.

Recently one morning as I was driving to work, I started thinking about those days. It had been a year since that summer, and since then I’ve made some progress. There was a brief relapse a few months earlier, but I remembered the old thought readjusting tricks and things got back to normal again. Yet with the brief relapse, I realized how easy it was for me to just let my guard down and let the anxiety take over.

When will this struggle be over? I had been dealing with mental illness for most of my life now, and I was getting sick of it. There was nothing else I wanted more than to just wake up one day and no longer have another anxiety attack. Ever! The Gospels report that Jesus once drove demons out of a man who hid in caves and cut himself with rocks. I thought all my demons were supposed to be gone.

And then it hit me: this is exactly like the thorn in Paul’s flesh!

I can’t imagine how my weakness and hang-ups can possibly give glory to God. When people look at me, I want them to see a strong man, a man whose life has been changed by God. More often, however, people see my failures and moments of weakness when I let the negative thoughts drag me down. What kind of testimony is that supposed to give?

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Or maybe that’s exactly the kind of testimony I’m supposed to give. If I had the strength to battle my demons on my own, I would have never given my life to Christ in the first place. But the truth is I’m not. I tried to do it on my own, but just fell back into the same cycle of depression and getting better and falling back again. It wasn’t until I came to know God that I realized I didn’t have to battle it alone. In fact, the battle is not even mine to begin with; it is God’s. There are moments when it seems as if all is lost and the darkness is completely taking over. But then there always ends up being something to keep me going; it could be a Bible verse, a memory of being blessed, or a gut feeling that everything’s going to be okay. God’s mercy always shines through the darkness.

There a particular Bible quote that comes to mind: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Maybe there’s some one out there right now, huddled up in his or her room, wondering when the darkness will end. Maybe this person is waiting to hear a story such as mine, a story that’ll make him or her realize, “Hey, I’m not alone!”

For years I’ve denied having a thorn in my side. Not only do I acknowledge it now, but I also know how to care for it when I feel the slightest sting. Throughout the summer of 2006 I begged God every night to remove my thorn. But now I know that it serves a purpose here on earth, and when I get to Heaven I’ll feel the joy of no longer having it in my flesh.

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