In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about “a thorn in [his] flesh.” A messenger of Satan, he calls it, keeping him humble and causing him not to boast in his strengths, but in his weaknesses. Though it causes him great trouble he boasts all the more gladly about his shortcomings, this thorn in his side, because it makes less of himself and much of Christ. For the sake of the gospel he shares boldly how weak he is and therefore how much he really needs the strength and power of Jesus to save him. To make much of Jesus…this flows through every word Paul writes to the Corinthians.
As humans we are not inclined to boast about our shortcomings. Our weaknesses. The things that grasp us so firmly they pull us away from Jesus and even try to convince us that he is not enough, or that nothing is powerful enough to save us from the things we are bound to, be it sin, or anxiety, or depression, or wealth and power.
Today I want to share with you one of my own thorns. I usually try to keep it hidden, so as not to worry anyone, or cause reason to believe I’m just seeking attention, etc. But to keep the cracks hidden, the light could not shine through, which would be missing the point of this blog entirely. So here we are…to put it simply, I struggle with anxiety and depression.
It comes out in many forms. Maybe I don’t answer that text for awhile. I might not speak up in meetings. I become a recluse on occasion. I lash out at my husband. I try not to cry in front of people, but when I do, it’s visceral and uncontrollable, no matter where I am or who I’m with. I’ll assume the worst in people. I’ll victimize. I’ll be late to things I’m not usually late for. I’ll think so negatively of everything and everyone around me that to be around people can be just too much to bear. Better to just hide away, drown my thoughts in sitcoms, snacks, and a glass of wine, and turn off.
Eventually, when I feel like I’ve “let it all out” in a little corner somewhere, I’m able to crawl out of my little hole and feel human again. But I never really know what’s gonna trigger these little episodes and “bad days” if you will. The other side of it is the gripping anxiety…usually triggered by stress, my heart starts racing, I can’t sleep, I’m fearful for no tangible reason, and I get weird heart palpitations (the latter is probably something I should see a doctor for…I’m aware).
When I think about being caught up in moments like this, no matter what triggers it, it’s usually because in some way my heart is not resting in God’s promises or trusting that he holds all things in His hands and works them out for His glory. Or, maybe I’m seeking my worth and contentment in places other than Him, though I know how compared to the riches of His grace, all other earthly things will fail me time and time again. By placing my hope in those things, I essentially set myself up for the huge let downs, the low points, the bad days.
The knee-jerk reaction while facing all of this is something along the lines of “Cheer up.” “Don’t let yourself think that way.” “Shake it off.” As if there’s something I should be doing to avoid all this and find peace in the Lord again. Could I be in scripture more? Yes. Could I resort to praying more than worrying? Absolutely. Should I talk more about what I’m going through while it’s happening? Maybe. I could even just smile and “fake it till I make it” as they say.
Though these are all potentially helpful things, here’s the problem: When there’s something inherently broken inside a person, resorting to works-based “healing” isn’t going to work. Paul BEGGED the Lord to take away the thorn in his side, but it was always there, waiting to trip him up again (v. 8-9). And Paul did a lot of good things! He says so himself, that even if he chose to brag about the good things he’s done, he “would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth” (v. 6). But that’s not the point…though he’s done many good things, they’re not enough to remove his thorns entirely. They remain as a constant reminder that the only thing sufficient to cover them and heal Him is the grace of Jesus (v. 9). And in his weakness, God is all the more glorified because Paul must rely on Him to endure.
So I could “buck up” and try all the many ways humans try to save themselves from things like this…but I know in my heart that the only way to true, deep healing from the pain of anxiety and depression is found in Jesus. At the cross, I don’t have to “get better” to find freedom. It is given. I don’t have to “try harder” to endure the path set before me. He provides His strength to carry me. I don’t need to “help myself” before I can serve God. He is more glorified in my weaknesses than in my successes.
Some might look at me and think I glorify Him best when I’m on a stage, leading people in songs of praise, worshiping His name with a smile on my face. I think He is glorified even more when I come before Him, ill-equipped and stumbling, and choose to serve Him still, admitting I am incapable of doing any of it without the Spirit empowering me from deep within. He is glorified more when I feel so frail and so unprepared, that only by trusting in Him can I step forward into what He has called me.
God uses weak people to magnify His strength. I am one of them. Though I am frequently anxious and have trouble controlling my emotions He still chooses to use me to put sung prayers on people’s lips to bring them to Jesus. And let me tell you, sometimes this is nothing short of a miracle…there are mornings where the tears won’t stop and my heart’s racing, and I am not exaggerating when I say that only the Holy Spirit can give me breath and steady my voice in order to lead people well.
Praise God that He is so capable, so that I don’t have to be.
For God’s glory,
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