Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-21, Mark 14:32-36, Philippians 4:10-13
It was just a common cold, then an infection, and then another infection from the antibiotics the doctors had given me to fight the first infection. Then, after being in bed for a week, my lower back started to hurt. To add insult to injury, I cracked one of my molars on a seed in my bread, and ended up having to get a root canal. For four weeks it was one thing after another. I don’t get sick often, so this debilitating month was like an object lesson in the absolute frailty of my body. Nothing was really related to anything else; it was just a perfect cluster of unfortunate events all smashed up against one another.
I don’t know about you, but I can manage a simple cold. I can even manage a tweaked back. But when all the world seems to conspire against me when I simply get out of bed, eat anything harder than yogurt, or I’m on my third round of antibiotics in a month—well, I begin to despair. In that moment, I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be well, let alone remember what it felt like to be cheerful or whole or able to manage anything. I felt like a walking mistake.
Have you ever felt like that?
Maybe it’s not physical for you; maybe it’s emotional. Or maybe it is physical, but to an extent that makes my month of maladies seem like a walk in the park. Perhaps it’s mental or spiritual—I don’t know. But I do know that sometimes God’s grace does not feel sufficient for my weakness. Nothing about me, or Him for that matter, seems sufficient in days and weeks and months like these.
Yet, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul lists the weaknesses in which he finds contentment: insults, hardships, persecution, and calamities, not to mention the thorn in his flesh God hasn’t removed. Paul is not saying these things don’t exist or that they aren’t hard. He isn’t putting on a brave face or being courageous in the midst of difficulty. He’s not even saying it’s okay to simply accept the thorn as it is. No, he begs God to remove it. But, in the midst of all this very real pain and difficulty, Paul’s contentment is not in his ability to weather the storm, bear the pain, or be brave. His contentment is in the sufficiency of God’s grace.
When I’m struggling with anything, I want to find contentment in God’s sovereign ability to change everything in an instant, to heal what is broken right now, to right what is wrong. What I don’t want to be contented with is simply walking through the difficulty—be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual—in the knowledge that His grace is sufficient, that He is bearing this with me, and He hears me. And even if He hasn’t answered my prayer according to my wishes, He is still sufficient for me in my weakness, emptiness, pain, and sorrow.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians in this passage remind me that sometimes God doesn’t change our circumstances, not one bit. But He does change our hearts in the midst of everything, making us more like Him. Jesus’ words to Paul and to the Corinthians are a promise to us as well:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:9
Lore Ferguson Wilbert is a writer, thinker, and learner. She blogs at Sayable, and tweets and instagrams at @lorewilbert. She has a husband named Nate, a puppy named Harper Nelle, and too many books to read in one lifetime.