We all struggle with something. I’m not sure what your particular struggle is, but I bet something came to mind. Sometimes, try as we might, our struggles just don’t go away. Sure, we can go to counseling and improve a bit. But we never get to the place where we have ‘arrived.’ Pain and struggle are ubiquitous to the human experience.
If we have been struggling with something for a long time, we might start to associate the struggle with our identity. We might think of the struggle as encompassing who we are as a person. Instead of saying, “I struggle with drinking” you might say, “I’m a drunk.” Instead of saying, “I made a mistake in that relationship,” you might say, “I’m bad at relationships.” Our struggle becomes who we are.
Associating our struggle with our identity can cause problems in our life. It can make us depressed. We can lose hope. We might end up letting our struggle run our lives, because we think it represents who we are, and there isn’t any possibility for change.
I don’t think God views us through the lens of our struggle. There’s this great passage in the book of 2 Corinthians, in which Paul talks about one of his struggles that won’t go away. He calls it his ‘thorn in the flesh.’
Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
No one knows what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. Some think it was a physical ailment. Others think it was a moral issue. I actually like it that the Bible doesn’t say what it is, because now each of us can relate. Our struggles are different, but we all struggle with something.
So Paul had this struggle that wouldn’t go away. He prayed to God to remove it, and it just didn’t happen. But, Paul didn’t let his struggle become his identity. He didn’t let his struggle define who he was. He didn’t let his struggle stop him from doing the work that God had called him to do.
I think one reason why Paul didn’t let his struggle become his identity was that he understood at a deep level that God didn’t see him through the lens of his struggle. He knew, deep in his soul, that God’s grace was sufficient for him. Even though the struggle didn’t go away, Paul knew that because of God’s grace, he was loved and accepted as is.
Discussion: What is one thing you are struggling with right now? Has it been tough to not let your struggle become your identity? Even if your struggle doesn’t go away, could you let God’s grace be sufficient for you?