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Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (II)

-- Learning About Pastor Counseling from God


From the previous article, we know a Christian being severely troubled by a thorn in him. And that thorn is simply his fear of coughing, a compulsive feeling he could not let go of for a long period of time. During this counseling session, we will proceed with the discussions on what the “cough” really stands for, and why he’s so frightened about it.

Counselor: Last time we talked about your pursuit of becoming flawless. In another word, you have little tolerance for any single deficiency in yourself. You said your tussaphobia has lasted for a decade. So does the fear of coughing cause you to feel painful?

Client: Yes, it is so. Just because of the thorn, my life becomes like this. So if the phobia bothers me no more, everything will be fine and I will do everything well. I’ve been searching for a way to eradicate this thorn; if not, I can do nothing.

Counselor: So, since the very start, you’ve been thinking that it is the thorn that affected your academic performance?

Client: Indeed.

Counselor: And it then affects your work performance?

Client: That’s right.

Counselor: Now, even your sleep?

Client: Exactly.

Counselor: Have you ever tried to make some friends these years? That’s one of the ways to live our lives as we grow up.

Client: How could I make friends when I’m still with this thorn?

Counselor: In your daily life, do you help people in need?

Client: I once helped one of my schoolmates with his lessons. But ever since I have this thorn, I just cannot do that any more.

Counselor: You’ve been spending years studying and working away from home and your parents. Do you go back home and see your parents to show any care to them?

Client: I really want to, but the thorn doesn’t allow me to do that.

Counselor: Since you graduated from the senior high, ten years have passed. Have you ever been in a romantic relationship?

Client: How can I be in love with this thorn in myself? I’ve been thinking about the chance that I could have a girlfriend, get married and have a family of my own when this thorn leaves me.

Counselor: It seems that for years the thorn has become an obstacle that impacts your study, work, relationships, and even sleep. But overall, it’s nothing but a cough. How can it be so devastating?

Client: It tortures me a lot.

Counselor: What if you ignore it and re-invite these into your life?

Client: That will be very painful.

Counselor: What if I say that everyone has its own “thorn”? What do you think of that?

Client: But mine is so agonizing.

Counselor: Supposing that the “thorn” represents a flaw, do you think that one could live a flawless life?

Client: I see myself no worse than others, but how come I become like this? For years, instead of being an active participant in my own life, this thorn has been forcing me only to be a bystander. I always want to eradicate it, but I never make it.

Counselor: There is no such thing as a perfect life. Would you like to simply accept it? We all have flaws, this or that, and may even have more than one. What do you think if we just ignore it and spare more effort in doing things and getting mature?

Client: But I can’t live a good life without removing this thorn.

Counselor: Paul’s first thought was like yours. He asked God to remove his “thorn”. But God told him to see His “grace” instead. That is to say -- God didn’t do what Paul asked Him to do, while Paul could live with it and led a good life.

Client: I’ve never thought of that before...

Counselor: One fact of life is human beings are flawed. “I must eradicate the thorn” can be our attitude to it; but the demanding attitude of “I’m not allow it to be there” is way too much. Everyone has flaws. Only God is perfect. The life of humans is to grow up in sorts of “finite” state. The pursuit of a flawless life with an OCD mind is more like that of Adam and Eve did, who wanted to “be like God”, but it would then reap nothing but pain and suffering that was caused by a single thorn in the flesh. You might think that the counseling sessions could help you get rid of the thorn. But my intention is to help you live with it, like Saint Paul bearing the thorn that God didn’t remove from his flesh.

Client: How could Paul stand the fact that he had to live with the thorn?

Counselor: Counseling is never as easy as “removing thorns”; instead, the true healing is a mystery embedded within His words of “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul grasped the mystery and began to shift his focus from the “thorn” to the “grace” of God. It allowed him to see the abundance of God’s grace that was ubiquitous but neglected by him all the time. The time of his awakening must be the very astonishing moment that he marveled at!

Client: Now I kind of know your point. Though Paul had the thorn, it never stopped him from becoming a great apostle. It strikes me that I also used to be very ambitious ten year ago when I was always eager to become someone great. But this thorn was always the obstacle.

Counselor: That’s right. Even with the thorn, Paul became a great saint; you also have a thorn, and can live a brilliant life of your very own. As for God’s plan for you, we still don’t know yet. But what we do know is -- if you keep staring at your thorn, you may hardly hear the word of God, needless to say His grace for you.

Client: Do you mean that I could also live a different life like what Saint Paul did, due to a shift from the rejection of having thorns to knowing how to count my blessings?

Counselor: You are absolutely right! I’m so glad to hear you say “count my blessings”. Now could you tell me any of the blessings in your life apart from that bothersome thorn?

Client: Oh, I used to ask God to give me a joyful heart. But now I realize that my pain and suffering come from my excessive focus on the thorn. If I start to count the blessings, my heart will be full of joy.

Counselor: Your so-called mental symptoms are substantially speaking mentally blind, namely only with the thorn in sight but not the grace. The fact is, God has already paved a healing path for us -- “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Author: Wang Xuefu

Translator: Bei Feng

Published on Tianfeng, 2021 (Vol.12)