Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thorns that remind us of His grace . . .

     Why won’t God take away this temptation?  Why must I still be tempted by this? – I used to be surprised by how often I am asked this question by faithful people.  I say surprised because, prior to accepting a call to ministry, I was convinced I was the only one who worried about such things.  Naturally, my time at my last church quickly disabused me of such notions.  Questions like this are part and parcel of the struggle of many brothers and sisters in the walk and wrestling match with God.  For whatever reason, we seem to think of spiritual growth in linear terms.  We seem to equate longevity and maturity in Christ with the process of sanctification.  The problem, of course, is that we want to be sanctified where we want to be sanctified.  More often than not, we miss what God is doing in our lives because of an obvious struggle that we think is of primary importance.

     The good news is that we are not alone in our struggles!  When people come in to complain about their seeming failure and ask me what is wrong with their faith or their discipling, I get to remind them that we are all in great company.  When we find ourselves in that position, of wondering why God has not taken away a particular temptation or weakness in us, we should all be reminded of these words of St. Paul.  Three times I appealed the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  When we recognize our faults and temptations as continuing stumbling blocks, we ought not to despair.  Rather, we should be comforted that, like St. Paul, we are being reminded of His grace in our lives.

     Put another way, I was reminded by our brothers and sisters in AA of the truth of this perspective.  About a year ago, I noticed that the stories of newcomers were pretty much the same.  From my untrained eye, the stories of the newcomers seemed almost scripted.  Those more established in the program, though, seemed to be captivated by each repeated story.  So I asked them how they could avoid the cynicism, or at least showing it in their faces, as each newcomer went through the predictable pattern.

     Simply put, they reminded me that their perspective was the same that we should have as Christians.  While they recognized that each newcomer who arrived was likely to go through predictable patterns and experiences and have predictable responses, they recognized the importance of each one of those experiences and patterns as important in the newcomer’s eventual path to sobriety.  Put differently, each individual’s struggles and responses, helped them down the path of recovery to sobriety.  We, watching and hearing them, might see patterns; but for those seeking help, they were the foundation of a future life.  Their struggles would remind them of their need for God in their life, and their struggles would give them the empathy to help others along the same path.

     Our walk with God is much like what they described.  Each of us gathered here has a particular sin or temptation (or more than one!) which plagues us.  If those thorns did not exist in our flesh or our consciences, how effective guides would we be to helping others meet the Risen Christ?  How empathetic would we be to the struggles of others?  How committed would we be to praying for them?  To exhorting them?  To cheering them on and through life?  Simply put, brothers and sisters, our struggles keep us humble before God and our fellow human beings.  Our thorns remind us of our need for His grace, the only grace that saves, and the only grace that heals--grace desperately needed in the world around us.

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