On Thorns and Crowns

“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

I’ve been pondering Paul’s idea of a thorn lately. It seems a fitting image as I confront the weeds and brambles of my own heart in this season of Lent. There is a great deal of speculation on what exactly Paul was referring to as his “thorn”. But for me the far more important question has been pondering: what is my thorn?

I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re often all too familiar with the nature of that thorn. That struggle that just won’t give no matter how many things you try, or how many prayers you pray. Paul begged the Lord three times that his thorn would leave him, but that may look like nothing compared to how often you have cried out to God to take this struggle from your hands. Perhaps so many times you’ve stopped crying out: instead turning to walk away, nurse the wound, fix it yourself, or just hide it as well as you can.

But there’s something powerful in the way St. Paul responds. He neither ignores the thorn, nor demands the Lord remove it at once. Rather he turns humbly to prayer. He does indeed beg that this thorn be taken from him. Three times he asks the Lord. But then he listens.

This is the crucial piece. What does the Lord have to say to you about this this thing that is troubling you? Perhaps He says, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” (Mt. 18:9) If so, listen. Maybe he says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Lk. 7:50) If so, receive it. Or perhaps he responds to you as he does to St. Paul, saying bear this for me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

When I brought my own thorn-pricked heart to the Lord I received St. Paul’s response, and my heart grew heavy at the prospect. But then the Lord, in His goodness, gave an insight to lift that heavy heart, and make that burden light. It was this: A thorn is a jewel from the crown of Christ, made precious by His blood.

I repeated the words to myself over and over. If I would receive it, if I would bear it for His sake, this thorn of mine might become a diadem—a precious jewel. No longer something to carry as a burden or a shame, but rather a blessing: a sign of my dignity as a daughter of God and a promise of my inheritance in the Kingdom.

And it’s true for each of us. Our suffering is not unknown but precious to the one who would unite it to His own, if we would only take it willingly from his hand. Then we could wear this suffering as a crown, and carry it for the Lord all that kingly way to Calvary.

But this, too, we must remember: it’s His crown, not ours. And the day will come when we reach the end of that long road. On that day there can be no prideful clinging to these thorns we have borne with and for Him. At the foot of the cross, at the foot of His throne, we lay down our crowns. We take up our place with the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple, and with the whole church we bear witness to the gruesome triumph of Christ our King as He claims victory over every heart and heals every wound, even the tiny pinprick of a thorn now long-forgotten in the face of His overwhelming love.

Copyright 2019 Mary Conway

Mary Conway loves books, tea, and Jesus, but not in that order. She received her bachelor’s degree in English with minors in Business and Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mary works in accounting for a local nonprofit where her secret undying love for Excel spreadsheets is put to good use. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X in Urbandale.