“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I was at a Catholic schools teaching conference this week and the facilitator began his presentation with the verse above. His speech was on ADD/ADHD. I have three children, two of whom have this disorder. I am not here to debate the over diagnosis, nor do I want to discuss the overuse of medication. I actually do not even want to talk about ADD/ADHD. What I do want to discuss is the very real frustrations that children and parents experience as a result of attention or other health issues in the context of our Catholic Faith and our experience with attention issues.
My kids are bright and beautiful and creative and articulate. I believe them to be perfect in every way God created them, but when I heard this quote, the image of the “thorn” never left me. Difficulties in my kids’ everyday thinking and learning have brought me to tears, not because it makes them less perfect, but because they struggle and work twice as hard for, sometimes, half the results. What parent wants their children to suffer in any way? I realize that ADD is a very slight problem to have in the grand scheme of things, and as compared to the sufferings of many children with severe physical sufferings, but it is our family’s challenge nonetheless. This is our “thorn”.
This thorn keeps does indeed torment, but it keeps me from exalting myself too much. This has definitely put me in my place and has made me empathetic in a way I had not been before. Many times I have asked God to help my children, even take away this difficulty. However, this weakness in our lives has enabled us to accomplish so much, yet become so humble. God’s power is certainly perfected in our weakness. The ability to overcome struggles has been an invaluable blessing for my children. If they did not know the bitterness of difficulties, they could not know and relish in the sweetness of accomplishments. I am more grateful on the good days, and I turn to Him more and more on the bad days. I realize how much I need Him because I cannot do this without Him.
Kids who are “imperfect” and their parents often experience insults, distresses, persecutions. Their parents are questioned constantly: Are you doing enough? Medication, why? Are you sure he/she isn’t just spoiled? Are you sure you don’t need a second, third, fourth opinion? Your child just needs X (fill in the blank.) The list goes on and on. At the risk of sounding cliché: God does not make mistakes. A child with any kind of difficulty blesses us in ways we cannot understand; amidst the tears and battles, this child brings his or her family graces.
St. Paul is saying in this passage that God wants us to trust Him more. Asking to be void of struggles brings no grace. Asking God for the strength to deal with these struggles is what brings us infinitely closer to Him through the graces he bestows. Even Christ Himself asked, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me;” but He also followed that up with “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Luke 22:42.
I am blessed by my children in more ways I can even imagine. I love them for their imperfections, because the struggles are blessings. I can attempt to be like Christ in my unconditional love for my children and I can strive to trust God in the way that only Christ Himself was able to trust the Father.
What struggles do you encounter that bring you closer to God? How do trust God through everyday hardships and self-perceived imperfections?