”Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” James 1:2-3 (NLT).
Not feeling good enough is something I have always struggled with. In my youth, there was never something I felt that I really excelled at. It seemed to me that being successful was always defined as being good at sports or getting good grades or having a lot of friends – none of which came easily for me.
Physically, I was awkward and always the last to be picked for teams in gym class. Academically, I struggled to get A’s. Aside from reading and writing, which were subjects that I did excel in, other subjects required a lot more focus and discipline, and usually meant that I earned a “C” on my report card.
I didn’t have a lot of fond memories of grade school and middle school. At the school I attended, there was a large population of multi-ethnic families. If I was lucky enough to be invited to someone’s birthday party, I always felt like the outsider. All the girls seemed to have such a rough exterior all the time – like they felt they had something to prove. I always felt nervous, unsure of myself and just wanting so desperately to feel included and accepted by anyone.
Many girls I went to school with were a lot more outspoken and “street smart” than I was. It was not uncommon for girls to have physical fist fights outside of school before the bell rang. I really didn’t have many friends. There was one girl who I was friends with for quite awhile in middle school. We would go over to one another’s houses and she was someone I always thought was my best friend. One particular morning, before school started, I ran up to her to say “Hi,” but when I did, she turned her back to me and ignored me completely. She was talking to another girl who teased me a lot and they were whispering and chuckling. From that day on, she never acknowledged me. It felt like a knife had been stuck in my back and what was worse, I didn’t know why and it made me question my worth.
We learn in the last five chapters in the Second Book of Corinthians the importance of clinging to the truth of who we are as children of God. In chapter 10, the Apostle Paul finds himself being challenged by some of the Corinthians over what authority he had in preaching the Good News. Paul states, “Look at the obvious facts. Those who say they belong to Christ must recognize that we belong to Christ as much as they do. I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority” 2 Corinthians 10:7-8 (NLT).
Paul reminds his skeptics that his authority comes from the Lord. Paul was not concerned with the fact that others thought him to be “weak,” or his message to be “worthless.” He was only concerned about fulfilling God’s calling to him to spread the Good News and proclaim the Word to those that needed to hear it. In other words, he did not let the opinion of others define who he was. It only mattered to Paul who he was in God’s eyes.
After reading through this chapter, I can’t help but wonder how hard it must have been for Paul to listen to others question his authority and character. In chapter 12, Paul addresses the “thorn in his flesh.” Here, Paul acknowledges his pain and his desire to be free from it. Yet Paul also acknowledges receiving “wonderful revelations from God” and how he must endure through the pain. Paul says he prayed three different times for the thorn to be taken away and each time God told Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9a (NLT). Paul’s response to God’s provision in the same verse is, “So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 (NLT).
Paul wrestles with the thorn in his flesh, yet he decides to find joy in the pain. Why? Because, he knows God is in control and that He has a plan for Paul. It would’ve been so easy for Paul to give up and quit after all the “insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles” were thrown at him. But, he didn’t. That is the lesson in these chapters.
When someone challenges our worth, we can respond in many different ways. But, we first must ask ourselves what is truth? If I am listening to what others say about me and letting their perception of me effect what I perceive of myself, then is that truth? Or is truth when I am listening to what God says is true of me and forming who I am based on His truth? It comes down to choice. Like Paul we need to focus on the truth of who God says we are, and in the midst of pain and suffering, we need to search for the joy.
Heavenly Father, many times I have struggled with my sense of worth in this world. When I feel betrayed or criticized by others, often I do not look to You for reassurance. Please forgive me for the times I’ve forgotten that You are with me and that You are for me. Let the perceptions of others not dictate how I perceive myself and may I find my peace and identity in You. Bless those that wrestle with their own “thorns” and help them to seek You first amidst their struggle. I ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.