In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle St. Paul talked about a personal problem, which he describes as a “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows exactly what that was. It is generally assumed that St. Paul was suffering from some sort of physical malady. But the only thing we know for sure is that St. Paul had some sort of personal limitation, which he prayed to be rid of, but to no avail; and finally, he had to settle down and learn to live with it.
I think that that should strike a responsive chord in the heart of everyone. Have you ever known a man or a woman who in some form or another was not having to handle some kind of personal limitation? This is simply a fact of life. We all have them – some physical, some emotional, some mental, some social, some financial. The specifics vary widely from person to person. Some are obvious and more severe than others, but no one is entirely excluded. Among the few things that hold true for all of us is the fact that each one of us has a limitation, which we did not choose and at times have wished to escape from.
A study of biography, both within and without the Bible, would reveal that all the great living of all the ages has been done by people who learned how to handle their limitations. So, our question is: How did they do it? What is their secret?
That isn’t an easy thing to do, and our initial reaction almost always flows in the opposite direction. Rebellion, resentment and self-pity are the common – perhaps we could even say the natural – response to personal limitations. Questions boil up in our minds: Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?
Doubtless, we have all had our moments of rebellion, resentment and self-pity; and there is every possibility that we will have such moments again. But we need to recognize that these are only emotional reactions and not rational conclusions about life. We must deal with ourselves more intelligently and courageously than that if ever we are to find the grace that enables us to live with our limitations.
Do you and I really believe that we are the victims of some kind of divine discrimination? So we suffer setbacks, so we experience disappointments, so we carry around a thorn in the flesh. Who in the history of the human race has not? No one ever gets to live all of life on the basis of his or her first choice. To take a second choice or a third and make something good of it is life. If we have not learned to do that, we are not really prepared to face life.
As soon as a person begins to take this positive attitude toward his or her limitations, they begin to look more like opportunities than problems. That is what St. Paul discovered concerning his thorn in the flesh. There was a time when he resented it and prayed for its removal; then later he said, “I boast of my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” What a transformation. The only thing that had changed was St. Paul’s way of looking at the problem. That which had been a despised hindrance was transformed into a minister of grace. Is it unreasonable to believe that the same change will take place in us if we begin to take not a negative, but a positive view of our limitations? Do not despise your thorn in the flesh. It could be your greatest opportunity. Listen carefully and you will hear God saying, “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.”