Thorns in the Flesh

Last year got ONE blog post from me. Take that 2016! Too busy living.

After a 3rd run-in with he-who-shall-not-be-named during the fall of 2015, I had a chance to put on the fightin’ gear once again. What I expected to be a long, ugly 6 month recovery turned out to be a shorter, less dramatic, 4 month recovery. 2016 grabbed the reigns of my life, cracked the whip and threw me into a new reality. I moved back to the house I’d purchased 8 months earlier, began working, dating, exercising and traveling again. Bustling demands and opportunities came, just like I’d hoped they would. Distractions from health concerns came, just like I’d hoped they would.

But other things came too.

Things I had wrestled with before, like anxiety, impatience, unfair comparisons, fears about marriage, insecurities about my appearance, and many more (a little too personal to share) were waiting for me.  They didn’t disappear after I left the hospital. Contrary to popular belief, there was no special immunity to everyday weakness, or petty problems, just because I’d survived cancer.

I still lost patience with kids at school. I still noticed all my flaws in the mirror. I still overanalyzed relationships that didn’t work out. On so many occasions, someone would say to me, “Well, I’m having a really hard time with something… but I know I shouldn’t even talk about it because it’s nothing like what you’ve been through!” (Insert face-palm emoji). People!!! I hope you realize that even I compare myself to that strong cancer survivor girl when having a hard time with things! I wonder, “Why is this other stuff even hard? I should be stronger than this!”

Here’s what I’ve learned. Sometimes there are things we face throughout our lives. Call them thorns in the flesh, ongoing weaknesses, or whatever you like. The prospect of battling them for an entire lifetime can seem daunting, discouraging, and unfair, but it’s certainly not hopeless.

First, a weakness wouldn’t be a weakness unless you struggled with it for more than a day. A week. Or a lifetime. Those other things that we figure out quick… those are obviously NOT weaknesses. And despite the common notion that some people just don’t have weaknesses, please remember: NO ONE is immune. We’ve all got stuff. It’s kind of part of the mortality package. The Lord wanted us to understand this when he said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them,” (Ether 12:27).

I read a book once called, “Weakness is not Sin,” by Wendy Ulrich. The title struck me. Perhaps like many, I had fallen prey to the lie that I was somehow crazy, or unworthy, or just really alone – because of my recurring weaknesses. I felt pretty ashamed sometimes.  BUT, struggling with a recurring weakness throughout life is completely different than returning to sin, and not ever fully repenting. Weakness can feel like sin because the consequences may affect our relationships and our ability to see things clearly, but it’s still not the same.  Wendy writes,

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 12.29.30 AM“Because we are weak, we cannot make every needed change all at once. As we humbly and faithfully tackle our human weakness a few aspects at a time, we can gradually reduce ignorance, make good patterns habitual, increase our physical and emotional health and stamina, and strengthen our trust in the Lord. God can help us know where to begin,” (“It Isn’t a Sin to Be Weak”, Ensign April 2015).

Paul never says what his “thorn in the flesh” was, only that he “besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from [him].” It wasn’t taken away. But Paul, who trusted God enough was still able to say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then am I strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Perhaps more important than the size or nature of our weakness is the energy we exert in striving to overcome it. That, coupled with our application of the Savior’s grace, is a winning combination. Whether or not we overcome everything perfectly won’t matter as long as we’ve become something better, something stronger – in trying.

Thorns in the flesh,

are but stones to success.

For with Him, ALL things are possible, (Phil 4:13).

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