“I learned…that the grace of God is sufficient, as He said, but I also learned that grace is not an anesthetic. The hours and days and even months that followed Ned’s death were so intense with pain that, looking back, I wonder that we did not die. The hurt was so great, the suffering so extreme, that I am amazed that the human frame, frail as it is, can survive such a blast. And I believe it was only possible by the grace of God.” – Isabel Fleece, Not By Accident
God didn’t take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh, as he writes in 2 Cor. 12:7-10. “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.”
Paul asked God three times to remove his thorn. This thorn was also a messenger from Satan. It was a messenger to torment Paul in order to keep him from exalting himself. Yet Paul asked God to remove it. Repeatedly.
And God’s answer was no.
God replied that in making Paul weak, God’s power is perfected. He told Paul that His grace is sufficient for him.
This grace? It is sufficient for Paul’s pain. But God’s grace did not remove the pain. Like author Isabel Fleece wrote, “…grace is not an anesthetic.” Grace made it bearable.
Paul’s pain, his thorn, came from Satan.
But Paul’s ability to carry that pain?
That came from God, from His grace.
And those thorns from Satan? Those are not without purpose. Oh, of course, Satan’s purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy. But God’s purposes are always for good. He always purposes our pain, our thorns, our sorrows to result in His strength. Whatever thorn we experience, we can trust that God will redeem Evil’s intentions.
Thorns are painful. But they can also humble us. They can make us beg God for deliverance, and we can refuse to accept God’s answer of no, or we can submit as Paul and humble ourselves. We can acknowledge our weakness so that Christ’s power can live in us.
Child loss is a thorn, and I know many who live in bitterness because of it. They refuse to accept God’s no. But I know many who have chosen to live with Christ’s power as a result. They’ve accepted God’s strength and gone forward in His grace.
I saw a beautiful display of this grace on Sunday evening at my local chapter of The Compassionate Friends where my family and I participated in the 22nd annual Worldwide Candle Lighting event.
TCF is not a religious organization, but secular in nature. However, a good many of bereaved parents at our local chapter hold their faith in Christ Jesus near. They are the ones I have witnessed as having joyful hope and healthy healing. They are parents who exhibit great grace, both from God and toward others. They are the ones who have gone forward with God’s strength, showing the thorn of child loss, yet displaying an all-sufficient grace each day.
These parents do not hide their thorn. They don’t mask their pain. They don’t deny the hurt. Instead, they allow the thorn of child loss to spur them on to light the way for other bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings. They burn their candles bright and allow God’s grace to give them a strength they could never acquire nor sustain on their own.
I am incredibly grateful for my Compassionate Friends. They have been, and continue to be, a great gift to me. The pain of child loss is a thorn that will never be removed until I reach eternity, but I am assured of this: God’s grace is sufficient. Every moment. Every day. Every year.