“…A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
In my younger years, I battled a hidden disability…endometriosis. It was horrible and embarrassing, far too personal to share.
I hesitate to call it a “disability” because it was sporadic. But I could count on being incapacitated every three or four weeks, bedridden with excruciating pain accompanied by nausea/vomiting. I never knew when the trauma would hit, often at inopportune times.
It made me unable to pursue a demanding career—being a park ranger, an athlete, a physician, or a flight attendant was completely out of the question. But I forged ahead with my life, thinking that all other women had to cope with the same problems.
I wish I could say I addressed my situation with spiritual maturity. I didn’t. Most of the time, I was angry and just gritted my teeth in silence.
It wasn’t until I went through infertility and surgery at 36 that I received a definitive diagnosis; the ob/gyn physician said mine was the worst case of endometriosis he had ever seen. He confirmed that what I had endured all those years was abnormal, a truly crippling experience.
It also could have been a “closed door” for bearing children since a hysterectomy was recommended. But God blessed my husband and me with a biological daughter before that surgery and afterward with an adopted son, both of whom are miracles. I praise God now for answers to prayer during that time and for healing from the constant misery.
When we think of disabilities, naturally our first thought is of people confined to wheelchairs or those whose lives are complicated by other visible handicaps. Through the tireless efforts of activists and advocates, accessibility for these folks has improved dramatically in America during the past few decades. Wonderful programs like Special Olympics and Paralympics offer sports competition that accommodates special needs. In advertising and entertainment, the media have mainstreamed people who have such everyday challenges. Educational and occupational opportunities have increased. All of these are highly applaudable developments.
But what about persons with hidden problems? Mild or completely disabling? It could be something like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from a battlefield, dyslexia (seeing/hearing things backward), epilepsy (seizures), chemical depression, chronic migraines, or bipolar disorder (manic/depressive).
If you suffer from some kind of invisible physical problem or mental illness, it’s easy to feel like a victim. Or to think you’re somehow not “normal.” Or to believe your case is hopeless.
When we focus on our limitations, however, we have a “glass-half-empty” mentality. We need instead to recognize that we have a limitless God and that He has a noble purpose for our lives.
The apostle Paul understood this concept. We don’t know what kind of “thorn in the flesh” he experienced. Perhaps it was poor eyesight, a leftover effect of blindness following his dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus…Paul mentioned in Galatians 6 that he wrote with large letters. Despite his prayers, God did not remove it.
Whatever the limitation Paul had to bear, he considered it something employed by Satan to attack him…yet also used by God to humble him. His disability must have convicted him of self-sufficiency, driving him to “do all things through Christ” who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13).
Do you have a hidden disability? Take heart, and be encouraged. You can overcome it, through prayer and by focusing on how God provides for you in spite of it. When I look back over His sovereignty in my life, I can see how He directed me toward the privileges of being a writer, wife, mom, and college instructor. You can count on Him to provide opportunities for you as well.
Remember that your “thorn” is no surprise to him. Our Lord has never promised us a perfect life—but daily He offers us His abundant life, with the commandment that we faithfully follow Him.
Study those around you who have fulfilling lives despite their limitations. I’m blessed to have many admirable friends who refuse to be defined by their disabilities. One, who’s missing a hand, is a personal trainer at a local gym. His client, another friend, has only one complete arm (and no complete legs) but lives and works as an honor student on a university campus. Both of these guys amaze me with their positive attitudes and bravado.
Yesterday morning, I was greatly inspired by a beautiful young lady at our church who sang “Be Thou My Vision”—poignant words for someone with extremely limited eyesight. By ear, she has trained her remarkable soprano voice to share with others, to the glory of God.
I think, too, of military veterans who serve in the Team Patriot program organized by Samaritan’s Purse. These “wounded warriors” and their spouses find personal enrichment in helping U.S. homeowners in the aftermath of natural disasters, working to rebuild homes and lives—in the name of Jesus.
When you’re tempted to wallow in self-pity, ask God to give you His strength to move forward, too. Seek the guidance of His Holy Spirit. Perhaps He is opening doors ahead of you that will lead you into new and more rewarding experiences. Wait for His timing. Enjoy the other privileges you already have from Him.
If you don’t have a disability, be patient with other people you meet along the way. It’s possible that they may be fighting against addiction or enduring an invisible pain. We never know what’s hidden below the surface.
Finally, remember there is complete healing in heaven. My dad was blind in one eye from childhood, but he rarely mentioned it…it was just part of his life. He was freed from that disability at his death five years ago this month. I have great joy in knowing he can see perfectly now, with both of his eyes on his Savior, face to face.
May God give you His grace, peace, and joy in your daily life with Him, whatever obstacles you face. He is your Overcomer.
Dear Jesus, we thank You for the privilege of coming before Your throne with our problems, limitations, struggles, and heartaches. You were a “man of sorrows” and understood our feeble frames. Help us endure, through Your strength, and live life here to the fullest in the joy of Your Holy Spirit. May we ever trust in You and Your perfect purposes. In Your power, Amen.
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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.