The thorn that won’t come out

Once a few years ago I got a splinter in my eyeball.

It all happened while enjoying a woodworking project at my house.  Did I have safety goggles on?  I want to say I did, but even with all safety precautions in place sometimes things happen that we can’t control.

At first it was just a minor irritation, like when you get a speck of dirt or an eyelash in your eye.  But as the hours rolled on that day I realized something was wrong.  To the mirror…I saw nothing.  Blink, wash, repeat, no change.  I felt something stuck in my eyeball and became increasingly concerned.

The story ends well; I called my ophthalmologist, was told to come in, and the doctor found a removed a wood splinter from my eyeball using some special medical tools.  Whew!

But sometimes in life we are given a thorn that will not come out no matter how much we work to remove it.  To make matters worse, God does not seem interested in helping us out either.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul recounts as follows.  “In order to keep me from exalting myself, a thorn was given to me.  I asked the Lord three times about this, that he would remove it.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness.’  Therefore, I am content with troubles, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

What was Paul’s thorn?  There are many theories.  Some believe it was a physical illness.  Others believe it was a spiritual oppression.  Careful study of the Greek language reveals that, contextually, the parallel use of the wording used here most often refers to persecution and trouble from other people.  We may never know, but suffice to say there were things impeding him.

Paul was not alone.  Many heroes of the Bible had troubles that would not go away.  Moses is famous for his calling to speak to millions and challenge world armies despite the fact that he had a stutter.  Jacob walked with a limp that was given to him because he sought the blessing of God.   Mary the mother of Jesus was likely plagued by the judgment of others as she found herself unexplainable and miraculously pregnant while still a virgin.

What about you and I?  Perhaps it is an illness that is terminal either in yourself or a loved one.  Maybe the thorn that holds fast in you is the consequence of a past mistake.  For some it is the loss of a close friendship or family member that causes enduring sadness.

Whatever your thorn is, it is a good thing to acknowledge that sometimes while it can’t be removed it can bring about some very good, if very odd things in your soul.

For one, thorns illustrate what isn’t but make us thankful for what is.  Like the old Indian proverb, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Beyond that, thorns help us relate to those who are suffering.  A brief stay in the hospital will open our eyes to the daily struggle of those battling cancer or other serious illnesses.

Ultimately, a thorn that won’t go away will teach us that we need God.  Like Paul said, or rather Jesus whom Paul quoted: In your weakness you can find me because you run out of you.  All our best efforts to salvage ourselves fail, but the strong and loving arms of God always pick us up.

Fortunately, in my situation, the good doctor was able to remove the splinter.  But sometimes in life that is not the case.  Captain Jean-Luc Picard said it well: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not weakness, that is life.”

May we be encouraged today to do our best but also accept what falls apart despite our best efforts.  The grace of God takes over in those times, and it is there that we come to know the Lord in stranger but deeper ways.

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