Thorn in the Flesh

ThornsMy daughter Ashley wrote me wanting advice for some sister missionaries suffering from depression. Here is part of her letter about one sister:

[This sister] has been very frank with me about her struggles with depression. Says it’s a family thing – something to do with neuron transmitters or something. I need advice on how to help her.

She has a hard time with feelings that she is not good enough, not doing enough, not lovable enough, or is not perfect enough to be saved. We’ve had some good talks. Most of the things I say she already knows anyway, but it’s something that has to sink in to her heart, you know.

It will probably take time. We all have trials, but she just happens to be one of those people that Satan works on in a certain way. But she really is a very good kindhearted person. I just need to figure out ways to make her happy, I guess. Which is hard to tell because even when depression sets in, she still smiles…she tries to hide it all away.  Got any words of wisdom?  I’d appreciate it.
Love you, Ashley

For all the it’s worth, here’s My Letter of Advice
About this dear sister.  You cannot cure her of melancholy, no matter how many nice things you say.  If this is a chemical imbalance, then meds will have to suffice. But you can inspire her to channel the sadness into productivity.

The thing about depression and sadness is that it can either be crippling or the basis of amazing creativity.  Everyone in life has a degree of sadness they pack around.  Our spirits are away from our Heavenly Home, so everyone carries a sort of emptiness, a sadness, a longing for something.  Some just have it to a greater degree than others.

You and I have talked before about some of the geniuses in current society and in history. Many of the world’s brightest have been the ones who suffered internally.  The only difference between them and others is that they learned to route that energy into something positive.

You know the kind of people I’m referring to.  Brilliant people like: the Apostle Paul, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickenson, or Michael Jackson, James Dean, and a slew of current comedians, musicians, scientists and artists today.  But,
I would venture to say that just about everyone has demons they fight and thorns in their flesh.

That is what the Apostle Paul named his suffering – “a thorn in the flesh.”

Thorn in the Flesh

Apostle Paul by Pompeo Giralamo Batoni 1700s

Apostle Paul
by Pompeo Giralamo Batoni 1700s

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.
2 Corinthians 12:7

Even apostles are not exempt from struggles.  What was Paul’s “thorn”?  No one knows.  Much has been speculated, that’s for sure.  Some have guessed anything from eye problems, a bad marriage, or speech impediment, to an antagonist, chronic pain, or even depression.  No one knows for certain.

But therein lies the connection to us.

By leaving the problem generic, Paul’s struggle could become our struggle.  For don’t we all have a thorn in the flesh?

Be honest, don’t you find that somewhat encouraging that even a spiritual giant like Paul had a thorn in the flesh?  There is comfort in learning that even he had to walk by faith.

Well, whatever the affliction, we do know that it hampered Paul’s service – so much so that he asked God to remove it…three times.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9

This was no casual request.  It was a downright plea, “Hello God! I need a little help!”  God’s answer?  “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Translation:  Weakness is the arena that spotlights His power.  In other words, if we choose, our weakness can summon God’s strength to make us whole.

Where we are deficient, He fills us to greater capacity than we could fill ourselves.  What’s more, He fills us with greater gifts than we could develop ourselves.  Greater capacity. Greater gifts.  That just adds up to a whole lot of healing fulfillment.

Rely on Christ’s Strength, Not Your Own
So when we find ourselves lacking, incomplete, un-whole, or broken, that is the emergency system alerting you to go to Him.  Ask Him to replace the darkness with light and fill you with His love, His grace, and His strength.

No wonder the Apostle Paul celebrated difficulties.  He knew Christ’s power would more than compensate for them.

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:
for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul’s genius did not begin and end with himself.  He had too many shortcomings.  Besides, he had a really annoying thorn.  Paul knew that his gifts as speaker, teacher, writer, motivator, pioneer, and visionary were the direct result of his trust in Christ’s strength.  That promise of strength gave Paul staying power.  Trust in that strength can give this sweet sister staying power as well.

Stay in the Fight
I casually follow a blog of a gal who is bipolar.  Two years ago, in the time of her deepest depression, she began the blog as a means of healing.  It would be an outlet.  It would also be her brilliance.  She’s a gifted writer.  Her struggle with pain and trying to understand the imbalance led her to search life and literature for meaning, and the result was months and months of heroically inspiring writing.

But then something happened.  Her writing took a turn.  It gradually became darker, negative, spiteful, and peppered with obscenities.  What was the difference between now and two years ago?  She was still using literature and history in her comparisons to life and illness.  I wanted to know what changed.

So I went back to recount when and why, and I found the link. It was when she began using Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.  Nothing wrong with embracing writers with similar frailties. After all, Plath and Woolf were poster girls for bipolar depression, so why not delve into their minds?  Why not study their prose?

Well, the problem was not necessarily their writing.  The problem with my blogger friend was that she not only embraced her mental illness, she began wallowing in it.  She stopped fighting.  Stopped looking up.  She stopped searching for light and meaning.  Her seeking company with Plath and Woolf led her to step out of the ring, put down the boxing gloves, throw in the towel, and give up.  And her writing became flat, miserable and vindictive.

Lesson?  Identify the thorn, embrace the thorn even, but never wallow in the fact that you have a thorn.  And certainly do not lay down and allow the thorn to take over.


Because in the struggle to override the sadness, ignore the sadness, and understand the sadness, ah, there will emerge unmatched excellence.

In the case with tormented successful people in history, well, not all of them were religious, but through gut-wrenching difficulty they learned to reach beyond themselves.  The great paradox of their life was that through weakness they gained strength.  Through suffering they learned self-mastery.  This sister can learn it too.

Spencer W. Kimball, who was no stranger to physical struggles, said:
“Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”            (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98)

Saving is for the Savior
Sounds like your companion has already done the hard part – identifying the problem.
Now it’s time to allow it not to cripple her.  The thing is – she can never work to save herself. Never gonna happen.  That was the Savior’s job, which He already did with the Atonement. Her thinking she has to work harder to save herself is like saying, “You can hold it right there, Jesus.  I’ll take it from here, thank you very much.”

Does anyone really think they can do a better job than Christ?  Can anyone replace the Redeemer?  Does anyone think that the Atonement just was not sufficient enough so they must “make up” for it?  I think the answer is clear.  So she must get over that thinking.

The Lord simply does not work on a brownie point system, nor a merit badge collection program.  Nope.  No lists and points.  The only work for us to do in “working out our salvation” is to change our heart.  That’s it.  Our job is to live to have a heart like Christ.  To love like Christ.

That is why forgetting yourself in the work is so important.  It’s an exercise in training your heart.  When we concentrate on the well being of others, our heart changes, becoming less selfish, less self-centered and more Christ-centered.

Then finally, those who, in the end, have Jesus’ image in their countenance – they are the ones who will be most whole, most changed, most like our Heavenly Father.

Already Loved
Tell this sister that she never has to work to earn the love of her Heavenly Father.  She has already got it.  His love is perfect because He is love.  So her performance can never expand His love nor diminish it because He loves her completely and thoroughly.  Her obedience can only bring more blessings her way, but not more love, for she is already loved. Period.

Has she ventured the thought that she might be putting on the gas in her service and working so hard because she is trying to prove her love to herself?  I think many people confuse their search for love.  Many think they are looking for love elsewhere when all along they’ve needed the acceptance to come from within.

If that’s the case, she may need to delve into believing her divine nature.  She is a daughter of God.  And the mere fact that she exists is evidence that she is loved (thorns and all), for she is His.

Stay Close to the Spirit
With all of this in mind, I want you to make sure you have the Spirit with you as much as possible because it will be the Spirit who will heal. It is the Spirit who fills with love, joy, peace, light, and knowledge.  In those moments when the Spirit is strongest will be the times that any physical ailment or brain malfunction will be healed and leavened and uplifted.

I like the way Parley P. Pratt described the influence of the Holy Ghost:
“The Holy Ghost quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”       (Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, Key to the Science of Theology, 101)

The Holy Ghost compensates for all maladies that life can throw at us.  How?  The Holy Ghost delivers the blessings of the Atonement – God’s grace.

It’s no wonder that Wilford Woodruff said,
“The Holy Ghost is the greatest gift we can receive in mortality.”

That is my advice for now.  Tell this sweet sister that she’s stronger than she thinks.  More loved than she realizes.  And she has a purpose that only she can fulfill with her special gifts.

And remember:
Everyone has Thorns.
Continue the Fight.
Believe in Christ’s Power.
Forget yourself in Service.
Rely on the Spirit.

I’ll be praying for you.  Lots of love and blessings and strength to you,





They are starting to put ads on our blog. We do not approve these and are not getting any residuals whatsoever, so I apologize for the content. I’ll see what I can do about it.


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