Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV)
I recently spoke with a client who has a chronic physical problem, and she has been frustrated for years regarding its effects on her life. It is not a life- threatening problem, but it is certainly a “life-limiting” one.
We discussed her frustrations about living with this condition, and then she asked me, “Will I ever get over these feelings of anger and resentment? Will I ever get to the place of acceptance?”
It made me think about what acceptance really is. Paul in the Bible struggled with a “thorn in the flesh”, a phrase that has worked itself into our culture as an example of chronic suffering for which there may never be a complete remedy.
Paul took the occasions of such reminders of suffering not to curse the condition, but to have it be a reminder to him of God’s ability to be sufficient even in our suffering- that God’s power is displayed when we are at our weakest.
I told my client that acceptance is “honest ownership of what we are feeling”. The question is not “Will I ever stop feeling this way”, but rather, “what will I do when I recognize that I am feeling this way?”
My client has the tendency to condemn herself when she gets angry or frustrated about her situation. I suggested to her that frustration is a pretty normal response to her suffering, but honest appraisal of the unwanted feeling is the freedom she needs. Acceptance is not becoming complacent with how we feel, or ignoring how we feel, or even liking what we feel. Acceptance is honest ownership of that feeling. It is only then that we can be aware of the power that God can give us to transform the suffering into something that can enhance our human experience.
No one likes pain, and we try very hard to avoid it, naturally. But when we respond honestly to our feelings about it, we can start to redeem the pain into something of benefit to ourselves or to others.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to honestly look at our responses to suffering, and to look to you for redemption of it, Amen