"And lest I should be aexalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a bthorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My agrace is sufficient for thee: for mybstrength is made perfect in cweakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may drest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in ainfirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in bpersecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am cweak, then am I dstrong."
I got out of bed with this passage in my head yesterday morning. Using the Sealed Portion of the Bible (aka TG, Index, and Bible Dictionary), I located the passage, and sat pondering it for a little while. Afterwards, I attended a University devotional, focused on the miracles of forgiveness and repentance. This, combined with my recent classroom discussions about grace vs. works (we read Erasmus' and Luther's respective discourses on free will, as well as Milton's Paradise Lost), led me to ponder my current life situation.
At the moment, many (including myself, recently) would consider my life situation "less than ideal." I'll not go into too much detail, as the specifics are unimportant and entirely beside the point. The point is, I'm having some very human experiences during this time in my life. As a member of the LDS church, I have been taught that when the storms of life come (because they will) I have the ability to call especially on the Lord, and He will assist in my struggles. We are also taught as Latter-day Saints that we are to strive each day to be better, and to a little closer to God today than we were yesterday.
I think sometimes, in our struggles to improve, we focus so much on our own efforts that we forget a main point of this passage--that the LORD'S grace is sufficient for us! Paul struggled with something, some personal weakness that he describes as "the messenger of Satan." He begged the Lord to remove it. The Lord's response is fascinating-- not "it's okay, Paul, this rule doesn't apply to you--you were born this way," nor "oh, hey, sorry--let me just get rid of that struggle for you, since you realized it's a problem and that I can take it away," nor even "I'm so glad you realized that you have something out of line in your life. Lesson learned, now you don't have to worry about it anymore." Instead, the Lord says "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
That passage is NOT saying that our weaknesses don't matter. Rather, it tells us that the Lord is not always going to take away the storms, the problems, the temptations, the struggles-- no matter how well-intention-ed or righteous we are. Sometimes he allows them to remain, so that we can learn to call upon Him, apply the Atonement in our lives, and properly learn how to use our agency. That is not to say He will leave us "on our own"-- Christ promises His assistance, guidance, comfort, and power. Through trials and temptations we are blessed with the opportunity to choose to follow Christ, to use our agency more consciously and more powerfully to deliberately apply Christ's Atonement. In this process of choice in the midst of constant struggle, we become--more and more fully--co-creators with Christ in the formation of our own lives. As we consistently choose good in the midst of evil, peace in the midst of conflict, faith in the midst of fear, and courage to continue on, He will give us the strength we need to valiantly move forward and fulfill the purpose of our lives with joy.
I'll leave you to your ponderings, with this musical rendition of another prophet's similar struggle. The scriptural account can be found here.
"My flesh is weak, and I'm encompassed by a world of sin, which holds me in thrall if I give in and to temptation fall. Then, strength grows slack--I waste in sorrow's vale; my peace destroyed--my enemies prevail. Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin! Rejoice, my heart, and let me praise again the Lord, my God, who is my Rock, and stay-- to keep me strict upon His straight, plain way. Oh, let me shake at the first sight of sin, and thus escape my foes, without and in." --I Love the Lord, R.S.