"What is the thorn in my flesh?"
That question above? I don’t really like it much. I am guessing that most people don’t. It is hard to admit the things that plague us out loud. It takes immense bravery to talk about the things we can’t seem to overcome. The vulnerability of the conversation makes it hard to find others willing to have it. But we must. We have to have discussions about how we survive living with a burden we can’t shake. Life is hard. The thorn in our flesh, whatever it may be, makes it so much harder. We can’t and should not do this alone.
Some who read the next sentence will be very surprised and some will nod their head because you have known this about me all along. Fun fact: I am an anxious person.
I never intended to be. I didn’t grow up praying for every unexpected situation to send me into flurries of apprehension. It does not bring me comfort and I don’t enjoy it at all. I am not a fan of that frazzled girl running around in worry, stressing herself and her people to the breaking point, fretting over what most would consider unimportant or no big deal. But the things I worry about sometimes may seem minor, but they are a big deal to me. Whether it is fear over my children’s future or the discomfort of the fork being in the wrong drawer, the magnitude of the unease is the same for me—it only takes something being out of place to trigger my need for safety and control.
Yes, I know where it comes from. Yes, I have explored my past and future and faith and know all the strategies to combat it. I have worked through trauma until I was out of tears. I have forgiven others and myself for so many things. I continue to research new tools to combat the impulse to fret. I still give it to God and take it back a hundred times a day. But this beast does not go away easily. It is the thorn in my flesh, it is part of my Eden apple, and it is always there in the background, waiting to pounce the moment something goes awry, ready to defend and protect at all costs.
It is exhausting. It is even more exhausting in the moments I know it is happening and feel powerless to stop it. I can sense my level-headed self trying to fight back from the inside, standing right beside the tracks, screaming at a runaway train as if her voice alone could tame the roaring engine as it passes her by. But I get up every day and pray I will be able to stop that train or at least slow it down. Every day.
I give you this piece of my heart not for sympathy nor ammunition, but only because I believe I am not alone. I believe there are others out there that, even within your faith, still struggle with this heavy weight of anxiety. I believe there are hurting humans out there that are tired of being dismissed by past panic and weary from the burden of the battle they are fighting. The battle to stay calm. The battle to be heard. The battle to be taken seriously. The battle to just breathe. I want you to know you are heard. This is real. You are not alone.
I wish I had a miracle for us both. I do believe in them. I do think we can be healed and healthy and happy. But for whatever reason, for me, the miracle is not here yet. So today, I take one more step into the battle, but I find some comfort in knowing that if I look around me, there will be others fighting too.
So, what to do until our miracle comes? I don’t have all the answers, but I can give you my own experiences in case they might light your way. I have made progress in finding a way to breathe. Over the years I have discovered that there is one particular time I feel no anxiety. It happens when I create.
I started by examining my days and asked myself when I felt lighter and less worried. I tried to pinpoint moments in my life when I remember the feeling of freedom I now crave. Every moment pointed to one thing. If I was writing, painting, creating a gift for someone, or playing or singing music, I felt no stress. For just a brief moment there was freedom. There was peace. There was a break in the carrying of the responsibility on my shoulders. There was quiet and beauty and hope. There was also God. A beautiful conversation full of promise, unburdened by my pleas and requests and distractions. Just He and I and the gifts He gave me surrounded by the joy and playfulness of creativity. These are the moments I wish I could capture and carry with me the next time the silverware drawer sends me spinning. I do not know how to do that yet, but I will keep trying. Maybe this revelation about my moments of relief could be your moments too.
What if the thorn in your flesh is not anxiety? What if it is medical problems, addictions, depression, or something else? I think there is a possibility you also could find a moment of peace in my moments too. The practice can work for more than just anxiety. Just try to find the times you have overcome this pain and find unexpected peace even if for only an instant. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? What about that moment brings you comfort? Are you finding peace there? Are you finding Him? Find that breath you can breathe in deep. Find that instance you can spend with God and the glory of the beautiful things He has created unhindered by the thorn that weighs on your heart.
I can’t stop a runaway train. But sometimes I can find a quieter place to stand. I can find hope that will keep me going until the next moment I can grasp that peace.
It is time to ask this hard question. It is time to have this uncomfortable conversation. What is the thorn in your flesh? Have you discovered it, examined it, defined it? Have you found a quiet place to stand and hold on to hope? If yes, keep holding on my friend. I will be right beside you doing the same. If not, now is a great time to start looking for the train.