Suppose that, like Paul, you were challenged by the people with whom you share
your faith to offer some reason why they should listen to you. What would you
You might list your degrees,
your experience, your years in the parish. Would you be inclined to claim, as
Paul does, that your weakness qualifies you to be a witness of the gospel?
In 2 Corinthians
12:1-10, Paul shares an experience of his own transformation. The notion of
experiencing strength in weakness evidently did not come easily to him. He tells
us that he repeatedly begged the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Scholars
have offered various theories about this thorn: a physical illness, a speech
impediment, an experience of despair. It may have been Paul’s way of symbolically
describing his opponents. Whatever it was, it wore him down. He feared that
it would keep him from effectively sharing the gospel. Therefore, he begged
that it be removed.
Who of us cannot relate to this prayer? We find ourselves
faced with some new limitation and, like Paul, we fear that
it will hinder us from doing what we want to do. Health crises,
depression, times of great loss or self-doubt can leave us
reeling and praying that this situation will ease up or, better
yet, go away!
Several years ago, when I was
feeling quite overwhelmed with ongoing health problems, the loss of a ministry
I loved and the very unexpected death of my nephew, I worried that I was not
able to minister effectively.
One day, someone asked if there was anything at all in my ministry
felt my present experience enabled me to do well. I realized that, as
a spiritual director, I was hearing people more clearly than ever before. Something
about my own experience of “weakness” enabled me to be more compassionate with
others in their struggles the gift of strength in weakness.
Hanging Onfor Dear Life
Paul tells us that his “thorn in the flesh” was not
removed. What changed was that he came to recognize the presence and the strength
of God within that very situation. The promise he heard from Christ was,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
What a challenge it is to trust
that! As a spiritual director, I hear others speak of the same amazing experience
of grace that Paul knew.
The person who feels absolutely
unable to forgive finds mercy rising up within her. Strength in weakness.
Someone wading through depression actually experiences himself comforting another.
Sufficient grace. The young parent with chronic pain discovers that,
while her activities may be fewer, she is parenting more effectively than ever.
Strength in weakness.
The challenge in this passage
is not to learn to “tough it out.” It is precisely the opposite. In our times
of greatest struggle, we are asked to be gently
present to our own vulnerability and to believe that in that very place
we can experience the powerful gift of God’s strength.