THORNS AND TRIALS
Thorns hurt! We have several rose bushes in our backyard and when I accidentally brush my hand or arm against one, OUCH! is the first word out of my mouth. Sometimes the wound is deep and the pain is so sharp that it brings tears to my eyes. Thorns are a lot like the trials the LORD brings into our lives. They humble us, hurt us, and often cause tears, disappointments, frustrations, and pain.
My most challenging thorn from God’s Hand to-date is when I first became chronically ill with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) in 1993. This thorn has been much more challenging than the amputation of my left leg in 1986, and was unplanned and unwanted. I spent the first few years almost constantly pleading with the LORD to remove M.E. I wanted a “quick fix” for my suffering, but as Sinclair Ferguson says, “God is not in the business of quick fixes.” So after much pleading, begging, and bargaining with God for my thorn to be removed, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8, the healing I longed hasn’t come. Obviously the Lord has more in mind than my happiness. He wants me to learn the character qualities Paul spoke about in Romans 5:1-5, and the ones James mentions in James 1:2-3, specifically endurance, perseverance, godly character, and hope.
In 2001, in God’s great mercy, He made a way for me to participate in a research study at my doctor’s office for an experimental drug. This medicine is administered through an IV and is not yet FDA approved. Since 2001, I’ve been on and off of this medication, and the Lord has used it to help me feel better and to improve some of my physical and cognitive symptoms. My thorn is still with me, but I’ve come a long way from where I was. I still have M.E. and have endured much during the 26 years I’ve been ill. It’s possible this thorn will be with me for the rest of my earthly life, yet over time God has given me a new perspective. Instead of hating my affliction, I’m learning to be thankful for it and for what God is teaching me through it. I try daily to remember to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV) Though some days it’s still hard, because of my limitations and isolation.
God teaches His children much through suffering. He has used M.E. in my life to reveal my sins, to humble me (I had to crawl around our home for ten months wearing my husband’s red soccer knee pads.), and to conform me more into Christ’s image, a slow, painful, and ongoing process this side of my Heavenly home. God has slowed me down and is teaching me the importance of being more a Mary than a Martha (Luke 10:38-42). He has shown me how much it pleases Him when I offer my “Widow’s Mite” of energy each day (Luke 21:1-4).
I’m learning that it’s not the doing that’s most important. Our highest priority is to know God better, to love Him more, and to desire, above all else, to be more like Jesus.
Affliction has a way of showing me my sins in all of their glory, so I can repent of them. My suffering also reveals the insignificance of things I once thought important, but are of little or no eternal value. Affliction has drawn me into the Word more often, and has prioritized what really matters in life. It’s deepened my prayer life and my dependence on God. M.E. has given me empathy for others going through trials and difficulties, and it has grown in me a more intimate relationship with Christ. In our humanness, we tend to think of suffering as a curse and a waste, especially when it rules out traditional Christian service. However, our Sovereign, good, and very faithful God can and does bring good out of pain and suffering as He promises in Romans 8:28.
We can trust God with our pain and suffering, even offering it back to Him as a sacrifice – another way of serving Him.
I love this quote by E. Margaret Clarkson in her excellent book, Grace Grows Best in Winter. “…I wonder if the pain itself may not be a source of service to God. True service is spiritual, consisting not so much in doing as in being; and the quality of service one may bring is not determined by its quantity, nor by much activity. If a soul that has been taught to suffer can look up into the face of the Savior and not only accept severe pain as from His Hand, but thank Him for it, knowing that it is good, even perfect, just because it comes from Him, may not that soul be offering to God one of the purest forms of worship and service known to the spirit of man?”
Those of us who are chronically ill have the blessing of offering our suffering, sorrow, pain, fatigue, and disappointment to God as an offering, of learning to rest in the palm of His Hand.
I’m learning to be thankful for my thorn and for the opportunity to know my suffering Savior better because of it.
First published March, 2019, in an on-line Christian chronic illness newsletter, “The Lord’s Special Flock.”Published with permission.
Tammi loves JESUS, the doctrines of Justification and Predestination, beautiful butterflies, bird watching, photography, sewing, and stenciling. Her favorite seasons are spring and fall. Because she is mostly homebound, she takes photos in her backyard, adds Scripture to them, and makes them into two cards sizes and five canvas sizes. You can view her photos on her Facebook page, “Tammi Rhoney Photography.” She also loves her very supportive and helpful husband of 23 years, Todd, and her black and tan miniature dachshund named Mini.