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Thorn in the Side, Weakness in the wrist

Aug 22 2021

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."  This is where the common expression "A thorn in my side" comes from, meaning an ongoing annoyance, struggle or affliction.  Biblical scholars don't agree exactly what was causing Paul his frustration, but most agree his use of the word 'flesh'  implies  a physical ailment of some sort.  We also know that Paul's eye sight was growing weak, so the thorn may or may not have been blindness.  Certainly, visual impairment would be a huge frustration for an academic Pharisee like Paul, so that is a reasonable theory.  Whatever the thorn was, Paul tells us the thorn in his flesh had a positive purpose: "lest I should be exalted above measure."  Its purpose was to keep Paul humble.

While I don't pretend to be an equal to Saint Paul in any way, shape or form, I think I can relate to this passage pretty well.  I started juggling when I was 14, and two hours of practice a day every day was pretty standard for many years.  At 23 I experienced a spiritual 'rebirth'.  I was a single man living in South Carolina, and my juggling was beginning to take off.  Once it started moving in the direction of becoming a ministry in which the Gospel is shared, it moved even more rapidly into this new direction.

Then one day while practicing with my partner, Dwayne, who was also my pastor's son, my right wrist began giving out on me.  This was especially true with linear objects: clubs, tennis rackets, torches, knives, etc. At first I hoped it would pass.  Then I tried to exercise it away.  For a while I was in a church that taught God would heal any physical infirmity if I had enough faith, and no hidden sin was blocking God from working.  I sought prayer often.  Then it occured to me that, if God would heal anyone who was moral and faithful enough, why wasn't Paul healed of his thorn in the flesh.  For that matter, Timothy, Paul's 'spiritual son' suffered with stomach ailments that never healed.  Thankfully, this caused a theological maturing, but the frustration of juggling with an injured wrist continued.

Over time two opposite things happened: slowly, I lost several tricks over the years.  Simultaneously, I learned to adapt how I did certain tricks so I could still perform them.  There were times of frustration and times of victory, but I never really thought about my repetitive motion injury (for that is what it is) except when I found it a frustration.  It is, I concluded, what it is.

Then recently I thought about Paul's words.  RMI, I realized, was my thorn in the flesh.  A frustration, yes, but a frustration with a purpose: "Lest I be exalted above measure."  If I were a world class juggler, there would, no doubt, be plenty of opportunities to perform at festivals and mega-churches.  But my venues are smaller, less profitable, and so much more authentic: psych hospitals, nursing homes, jails,summer camps,  little white-washed New England churches of 50 or less people.  

Yes, I would surrended my RMI immediately right now if that were possible, but like Paul, I've asked God to remove it and He hasn't. Instead, He has allowed my injury to focus on venues that don't normally have live entertainment, much less creative ministry.  Thank you God for my 


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