Perhaps the greatest privilege of life is sharing our innermost thoughts and desires one with another. I am often honored to be included in such heartfelt conversations, and the most consistent thread I find woven within each story is the frustration between who we want to be and who we are. If you have never experienced this frustration, turn now to the comics page and have a good day. For the rest of us I offer a sense of perspective that has helped me across the years. It lies in what I believe is one of the most revealing of Scriptures. The Apostle Paul is writing his second letter to the church in Corinth. He has experienced a vision of sorts and is struggling with interpreting the vision to his audience. "Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me. 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 NRSV)
I can just hear Paul's lament. "Why, Lord? Why must I endure this thorn in the very flesh of my being? Am I not faithful? Have I not accomplished all you have asked? Why must I suffer so?" And the response is as classic and life-changing as any conversion experience. "My grace is sufficient. My strength is made stronger in your weakness." In that response I hear three things. First, God is not about giving us comfort. Second, God is not about debilitating guilt. Third, God is about Grace, the gift that transcends all human desire and embraces all human weakness.
Such insight means nothing unless it is applied to our everyday lives, especially in these days of so much competition for our hearts as well as for our votes. So I ask myself, how often in my striving to affirm my faith, have I forgotten to be faithful? And in our lives together might we ask of ourselves, in our zeal to claim that we are the best, have we forgotten how to be our best?
Paul knew that the best realization of God's grace came not when the thorn was removed, but when the pain was explained. God gives us a way through the aches and pains of our living and asks us to be thankful for those thorns in our flesh. We need those reminders that this life is not about us. It is in living our lives in joyful response to the freely given gift of grace, thorns and all. Now, that's perspective.
Pastor Pete Nelson of Carson Valley United Methodist Church is a member of Carson Valley Ministers' Association.