By Kelly Kyle
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Being a Christian does not exempt us from pain or suffering, nor does Baptism necessarily heal us from all of our ailments. Rather, it is often through our own weaknesses that we learn to hold fast to Christ. It is through our vulnerabilities that we learn acceptance and how to genuinely love our neighbor.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. Apparently, my brain was wired a little differently, a little too tightly wound. As a child, I managed this anxiety to the best of my ability, but by the time I was 16 my world started to slowly crumble. I was a junior in high school and I found myself lost in the throes of a serious depression. As my parents were in the midst of a divorce, I searched for something or someone to hold me up. My friends were touring college campuses and anticipating their next stage of life; I was just trying to maintain my day-to-day existence.
At 18, I checked myself into a hospital. While my friends were trying on their graduation caps, anticipating Grad Night and the excitement of new beginnings, I was in a small, secluded, non-furnished room, stripped of all my personal belongings. I managed to find some solace and comfort in the Psalms. I was a million miles away from my classmates’ future hopes. My hope was to find the will to live, and to figure out who I was.
I silently suffered for years in church pews, convinced that I was somehow spiritually responsible for my illness. I pleaded with Christ to remove my anxiety and depression, believing that without this thorn in my side I would be a better person and live a better life. I diligently tried to rid myself of it; I read up on the fruit of the Spirit, participated in Bible studies on joy, and waited for my healing miracle.
While in waiting, a dear friend introduced to me to my future husband. Not only was I blessed with a good man, I embraced a scripturally grounded theology and became a Lutheran. I was catechized in the faith by one of the best. For the first time, I heard Law and Gospel explained in a way that reassured me I didn’t have to earn my salvation. I learned to appreciate liturgy and love hymns. The sermons I heard each Sunday were all about CHRIST. I had found my resting place.
WITH TIME COMES INSIGHT
Over the years, I have gained more insight into my struggle with anxiety and depression. I think we become anxious over our own vulnerabilities and want our thorns removed to alleviate the pain we are experiencing and to convince others we have our acts together. We hide behind addictions and other kinds of dysfunction. We become impatient with Christ and believe we know what we need and how we would like to be seen by others. We hustle to cast off the parts of ourselves that are not beautiful, the intangibles we believe to be unsightly.
Nowadays it is even more difficult to see ourselves as Christ sees us. There is constant pressure around us to appear like we have everything together—we must project success. We put our best foot forward on social media, and so we carefully select and crop pictures of ourselves so others see only what we want them to see. Unless they are close friends (and maybe not even then), they know nothing of the moments before or after such carefully selected photos are taken and shared. They see our graduation photos but nothing of the reality of agonizing exam preparation; they see the engagement and wedding photos but nothing of the time it took to learn to love sacrificially, the mistakes made and the heartache experienced. They see our lives out of context because that is what we believe we SHOULD show them. Sadly, we deprive our friends of the opportunity to love us, and miss out on the ways in which we can truly love our neighbor. We stop being honest, and instead live in the pursuit of whatever our culture dictates, to the point of not remembering our own authentically beautiful hearts and minds that Christ created, but more importantly, has forgiven.
GRACE DESPITE THORNS
Sometimes the people around you with the most painful of thorns are the most charismatic and dynamic at sharing Christ because they have delved into the utmost despair and understand they have been spared by the spilling of the blood from Christ’s wounds. They grasp Christ’s mercies and know that Christ never forsakes them. I love these people! They live with the resilience and faith that come from experiencing suffering and pain. They are the ones who will stand next to you when there are no words to say.
I still have my thorn—my struggles with anxiety and depression—but Christ has healed me. He did not heal me exactly when and how I asked, but over the last 25 years He has slowly and patiently taught me about His love, truth, and grace. He opened my eyes and I saw that I was not alone and that He remained with me in the darkest of hours. Every time I hear His Word faithfully preached, each time I receive Absolution, and whenever I partake of the Lord’s Supper, I remember that I am at the foot of Christ’s Cross, and I can have the courage to live imperfectly but forgiven. I am free to truly love my neighbor with Christ’s love. We all share in this life and are bound by the joy and sorrows it brings—no one is spared pain. But just like Paul prayed for God to remove his thorn and was told by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you” it is the same with all of us who are in Christ. The more we remember that, we can be kind, loving and patient with others and ourselves, which is living in light of TRUTH and GRACE.
Kelly Kyle is the wife of a loving husband and the mother of three active teenagers. She frequently writes about mental health and recovery in the hopes of encouraging others who are struggling. She is a member of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Columbia Falls, MT.
This article was originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Higher Things Magazine.