Embracing the thorn that bleeds you dry

By Stephen Altrogge

It’s been a rough couple months for me. As some of you may know, I’ve struggled with intense anxiety for a number of years. And just to clarify, phsyical anxiety and sinful worry are two very different things. When we worry, it often manifests itself in a sense of physical anxiety. I often (95% of the time) experience physical anxiety when I’m not worried about a thing. I feel like a large hand is squeezing my chest. I need to breathe deeply. It’s hard to concentrate. Worry is a sin. I’m not worrying about anything when I feel anxious. Something is malfunctioning in my body. Neurons are misfiring, or serotonin is not being properly absorbed by my brain.

Thankfully, God has given men and women wisdom to create various medicines that can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Over the years I’ve taken different medicines that have really helped me. But here’s the thing: sometimes these medicines quit working. It’s like one day the medicine says, “You know what, I’m sick of doing my job! I quit!” Recently one my medications turned in its resignation. So, for the last month or so, I’ve felt like a piece of dirt.

But in the midst of feeling like a large animal is sitting on my chest, and being unable to concentrate, and generally feeling awful, I’ve been particularly reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The great Apostle Paul was given a thorn in his flesh. He pleaded with God to remove it. He begged. He cried out. But instead of removing the thorn, God did something better for Paul: he gave him sufficient, powerful, sustaining grace.

God has used this thorn of anxiety to teach me some things. He’s taught me that I’m a weak, frail, fragile, easily broken creature. He’s taught me that I can’t do anything apart from him. I can’t breathe, or preach a sermon, or utter a prayer, or play with my kids apart from the empowerment of God. He’s taught me that if I have any success in ministry, or in being a dad, or in being an author, or in being a husband, it’s because his grace is at work in me. I need to learn and embrace these truths. These are hard, yet sweet truths. The anxiety I am experiencing is a severe mercy.

God may take away my anxiety. I pray that he does. But if he doesn’t, I trust him. I trust that he will give me sufficient grace for each day. I trust that his power will be sufficient for me. I’ll embrace the thorn, because I know the thorn is ultimately held by my Father.

The image at the top of this article illustrates the nightingale and the rose, a beautiful short story by Oscar Wilde.

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