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The Thorn in the Flesh

"When will it be over?" I asked myself this question as I stared at the fresh cut on my arm. I’ve been in and out of therapy for most of my life, so I should be cured by now, right? Then why do I always end up back here?

The first time I knew something was wrong was in elementary school. I would often get upset at the smallest thing, from accidentally spilling something to getting an answer wrong. When I got upset I would smack myself in the head, cry, and scream. One time I got so upset that the principal had to be called into to calm me down. My classmates got a kick out of it, so they would often provoke me by calling me names. I tried to ignore them, but in the end they would always win.

Finally one day in sixth grade I had enough of it. I tried to kill myself by jumping off the monkey bars at recess. Obviously I wasn’t very successful, but when the school called my mom, she knew I needed help. That’s when I went to my first therapist. We saw each other for about six months, and we made some progress, but by the time I was in high school I was back in therapy again.

It was also in high school that I discovered cutting. When I first started, I didn’t know anyone else did it; I just wanted to see how far I could push the blade into my skin. It felt like all the pain I bottled up inside could escape through my cuts. I knew it was bad, but it was the only thing that gave me quick relief. It was the only thing that felt real.

Then when I was 17 a girlfriend led me to Christ. Before that I had always been skeptical of organized religion, thinking that it was just a way to control people. I was surprised to hear that God was not the far-right-winged tyrant that I thought He was; He was calling me to be His son. As I read the Bible I realized that Jesus came not for the people who got it all together, but for the hurt, the lonely, and the depressed. People like me. So I became a Christian, and that’s when the healing began. I learned how to forgive the people who wrong me, and how to rely on God.

So why do I still have these relapses? Why, after everything I’ve learned, do I keep going through these cycles of breaking down and repenting? The Bible mentions Jesus driving demons out of a man who hid in caves and cut himself with rocks. When would all my demons finally be gone?

It’s in these moments of questioning that I remember the thorn in Paul’s flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). Although the Bible never says what exactly that thorn was, Paul writes about he begged the Lord three times to remove it. But then the Lord responds, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).

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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 this depression drag me down. What kind of testimony is that supposed to give?

Maybe that’s exactly the kind of testimony I’m supposed to give. If I had the strength to battle my proverbial demons on my own, I would have never given my life to Jesus 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. Then when I became a Christian I realized that I didn’t have to battle it alone. In fact, the battle is not even mine to begin with; it’s 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 ot be okay. God’s mercy always shines through the darkness.

There is a particular Bible verse 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 trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 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 will make him or her realize, “Hey, I’m not alone!”

For years I’ve denied having a thorn in my flesh. Now not only do I acknowledge it, but I know that I have to care for it when I feel the slightest sting. Throughout my life I’ve begged God to remove my thorn. But now I know that it serves a purpose here on earth, although I maybe not see it at first. And when I get to Heaven, I’ll finally feel the joy of no longing having a thorn in my flesh.

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