Since the first of the year, I’ve been reading through the epistles again, and something struck me in a way it never has before. We all know about the thorn in Paul’s flesh – that thing he talks about that gives him so much grief. Scholars have pored over his letters, trying to figure out what it was. Some people think he was nearsighted, and that was the thorn – after all, he insulted a priest because he couldn’t tell the man was a priest. (Awkward. He felt really bad about it.) Some people think ‘thorn in the flesh’ was just a euphemism for ‘persecution.’
It doesn’t matter how often people read and re-read his text trying to find a clue. It isn’t there.
And it isn’t there for a reason.
Not knowing is the whole point. It could have been anything. We all have enormous struggles, usually with one thing in particular. We desire things we shouldn’t, we struggle with the urge to commit sins we would regret later, we continually seek and are tempted by things detrimental to us.
Each of us has a different thorn. Sometimes the thorn is plural.
And Paul speaks to us this way. Because he doesn’t specifically name his besetting issue, he calls attention to our own besetting issues. We can relate to him. And we can relate to the way he dealt with it.
Was he happy with his thorn? Hardly. He begged God three times to remove it from him, to take it away. Yet when God said no, Paul didn’t throw in the towel and complain or give up.
He handled it better than I would have. He gloried in it. He didn’t sigh and grudgingly accept it, he accepted it with grace. He recognized it for what it was – something to keep him from growing conceited, from becoming too proud and self-reliant. He saw it, and he was thankful.
And so I look at my thorns and hope to see the flowers.