6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)
I’ve had many peaks and valleys in my life and ministry. Saturday was one of the peaks. I woke up to a feature story about me in the local paper, The Republic (“Building bridges of understanding…”) I didn’t have time to read it because I participated in a dialogue on faith and mental illness that was viewed by ministry leaders from as near as my living room to as far as Uganda. Several persons followed up with the desire to further the conversation and my grandiose mind began to race toward “healing for the nations” that my mental health ministry would usher in. Shortly after this peak, I hit a valley, I was reminded that I am only human. The surpassingly great revelations I was conceiving gave way to the thorn in my flesh, my debilitating condition of bipolar disorder that puffs me up fly with angels then casts me down to wallow with worms.
We do not know what the Apostle Paul’s thorn was. Was it a physical disability? An emotional hardship? A spiritual limitation? We can’t know for sure but we can say with certainty that the thorn kept him from becoming spiritually conceited. God prevented Paul from bragging about his personal prophetic powers, his supreme spiritual authority, his massive soul-saving ministry. Just as Paul would begin to lean on his own strength, God would remind him of his weaknesses. And, it was in his weakness that Paul rejoiced because it was there, and only there, that he could most fully rely on God’s all-sufficient grace.
People have asked me about the name of my ministry — Delight in Disorder. I first found it as a title of a 19th century poem by Robert Herrick. It is a poem about a dress with a “sweet disorder,” that is all the more attractive in its imperfection. This is true about us as well. God delights in us not when we display perfection — which we can’t, and if we could, it would only be a cover-up. Our spiritual beauty lies our disordered weaknesses that serve to prove God’s strength.
Since the peak over the weekend, I have come down to earth. I wrote a post about my father’s death — (“Blessed Are the Comforted Who Comfort Others”) that propelled me to feel profound pain. It needed to happen. Part of the healing process is allowing our wounds to be open, not hiding them in the mad rush to move on to something else. I spent a good part of Monday and Tuesday in bed, not so much sleeping as praying with sighs too deep for words. I needed to do nothing but grieve, unsure if it would help but sure if I didn’t, it would not.
Over the past 25 years, I have come to terms with aspects of my bipolar thorn. I embrace the all-sufficient grace of God that sometimes gives me the skills and stamina to write books and sometimes saps my strength such that the best I can do is get out of bed. I delight in my disorder because God delights in me.