One week ago, I stood in front of my Sunday School class and discussed some of Paul’s teachings that are most dear to me. I talked about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” likely a physical infirmity which constrained his efforts to do the work of the Lord, which he thrice sought to have the Lord remove from him. But the Lord left Paul with his thorn, promising instead that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” and Paul gloried in his infirmity, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” I said:
“Paul’s story is another “but if not” story for me. He was a man on fire for the Lord, the greatest evangelist of his age, willing to live and to die for the Lord he loved. And yet, rather than heal his disciple, the Lord chose to leave him wounded, to manifest His strength in Paul’s weakness, and Paul became a living testament of the power of God.
“‘But if not’ stories have always had a special resonance with me. They aren’t pretty, they don’t have happy endings, you don’t often tell them to illustrate a principle in your talk, you don’t often read them in the Ensign. And yet, they are filled with the power of God. They’re the stories of a family who faithfully paid their tithing, and still didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage, the stories of the bishop on his way to care for a widow who is struck and killed by a drunk driver, the stories of prayers that go unanswered, of heavens that are silent, of prophets martyred and promised blessings seen “afar off” that never materialize.
“Sometimes, God removes the thorn, mends up the torn skin, and we go forward rejoicing in His miracles. Sometimes the cancer goes into remission, sometimes the baby’s life-threatening condition is resolved without the need for surgery, sometimes we wake up and our addictions are gone. But sometimes, perhaps even most times, God meets us on the plain every day, and as we cry out to Him for relief, says simply, “my grace is sufficient for you,” and we learn to walk in the strength of God.”
Since last Thursday, when the new LDS policy (banning children of gay parent(s) from full participation in the church community, including receiving saving ordinances) hit the news, my own words (and Paul’s) from a week ago have been ringing in my ears, a reminder of Paul’s knowledge that God is good, that nothing can separate us from His love, that His grace is sufficient. Even with that knowledge, I have felt spiritually torn in half, blindsided by the agony that consumed me—not only for myself, but for all the individuals and families, people I love and people I have never met, who are going to be deeply damaged as a result. I have felt like my whole identity was gone, like I no longer knew who I was, like I was trapped in a well so deep that I could see no way out.
The policy is contrary to scripture. It is contrary to the doctrine of Christ. It is contrary to the nature of God. It denies the mercy and atonement of Christ. Every bit of my heart, every scrap of my conscience, and every God-given impulse within me bears witness that God is better than this, that Christ is greater than this. I will not defend this policy. It is indefensible.
The policy, and the theological and cultural currents on which it rides, will tear families apart, and do untold damage to “these little ones which believe in [Christ].” It is a wound to the body of Christ. It is a thorn in the flesh of the Church. I will continue to pray, as Paul did, that God will step into the breach, that Christ will bring healing and hope, that this thorn “might be removed.” Broken-hearted prayer seems to be all I can offer in the face of such unrelenting, terrible darkness.
“But if not”--If it isn’t removed, if we continue to be hindered by this infirmity, if this thorn in our flesh remains to fester, I will pray that we will come to know what Paul learned in his extremity—that Christ’s grace is sufficient for us, both individually and as a church. His strength is made manifest in our weakness, His grace overflows when all we have to offer is our broken, bleeding hearts. I have seen an outpouring of that grace in the past few days, as my friends have shared their experiences of wrestling with God, and having their agony remade into something holy, sanctifying, and pure. I have wept with others, received their counsel, been blessed by their insights, and together resolved to do better, to be better, to be more worthy to be called Saints, to live by Christianity’s radical creed: “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your father in heaven, who makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, who sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
I am not yet at the place where I can glory in this infirmity, or pray for my enemies. My prayers are still the [also Pauline] “groanings which cannot be uttered.” I am still working to find meaning in the fog, at doing my small part to mend this wound. I am searching for, and seeing glimpses of, Christ’s radical, sacrificial, transcendent love. I hope that, in our awful weakness, God will meet us on the plain and show us His strength, that, in humility, we will learn to walk in the light of the Lord.
With this thorn in our flesh, I will pray that we might be given the strength of our Savior, who wore His thorns as a crown.