Instead of coming up with yet one more resolution, maybe this year it’s time to add a “dissolution” to our New Year’s list? This is where we make a conscious effort to “dissolve” our own efforts towards ridding that stubborn thorn in our lives that simply will not change. Certainly change is good when appropriate, but not all things are going to change. Maybe the first order of business in the New Year is to consider the difference. There is an old saying worth looking at that goes like this:
“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”
How do we know which things to accept? Psalms 139:23 is a good starting place as we begin to take inventory: “Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Is there something in our lives that we have been anxious about changing, yet every attempt falls flat? We continue to press forward towards change, but it does not budge and seems unflinchingly stuck. I’m not talking about obvious behavioral issues that continue to crop up where responsibility needs to be taken. What I am suggesting is that there are times when undesirable circumstances come upon us, and we may not even understand why — yet we must accept. Typically it is something in our life that hurts or is difficult, and the New Year becomes our campaign ground for the resolution of it.
Accepting the things we cannot change
What if it is a thorn allotted to us for a season, one we are called to carry? God often uses the thorns in our lives for higher purposes that we may not understand. The apostle Paul was experienced in this matter. He may not have been given full explanation, but he knew three things for certain.
First, Paul understood the thorn was given to him, and he made mental recognition of this truth: “A thorn was given me in the flesh…” (1 Cor 12:7). The same truth applies to our own lives when an ongoing trial comes our way. Whether it has come upon us unaware or is a product of our own failings, God can use both for greater good. He turns failures into victories by using the thorny ache to spur us on to dependence on Him.
Second, Paul conveyed that the thorn had an uncomfortable characteristic about it: “…a messenger of Satan to harass me…” (1 Cor 12:7). Thorns are never fun. Imagine walking around with a thorn in your shoe all day. Every step taken would be a constant reminder of its presence. Thorns are like that. They harass. Because they hurt, they do two distinct things: they slow us down and they spur us on. Is there an area in your life where God is calling you to slow down? Perhaps you haven’t been able to get a handle on slowing down until this (cursed) thorn. Now you have no choice; you must either slow down or suffer greater pain. Ironically, it spurs us on simultaneously in spiritual directions.
Third, Paul recognized that there was a divine purpose in it: “…to keep me from becoming conceited” (1 Cor 12:7). Different thorns have different purposes for different people. For Paul there was an obvious reason — to keep him from becoming conceited. Isn’t it interesting that the reason was obvious, but the thorn itself was vaguely portrayed in scripture, even being debated by theologians to this day? Why? Because it is the purpose of the thorn that is important, not the thorn itself. The thorn is simply a vehicle God uses to bring about a humility of the heart that ushers in a fresh awareness of his amazing grace. Thorns redirect us in things of true value, things of the heavenly kingdom.
Turning over our to-do list
What are those things that God is allowing to stay the same for a season in your life? Pray for the ability and wisdom of heart to accept these things. Make a mental list and resolve to stop futile striving in these areas. Let your efforts be stilled and hand it over to the Lord. He is able to do far above what you are able and often does it in ways you may have never considered.
Transferring these things off your own to-do list and surrendering into God’s care is the greatest possible investment in the hardship at hand. I would even go one step further to the quote above and say — may God grant the courage for accepting the things we cannot change (not just for the things we can change). Accepting those things we cannot change takes tremendous courage. In fact, for some of us this is change.
As the New Year approaches perhaps a different resolution is in order. Do not be fooled by the religious culture that insists that rectifying all difficulty in your life is the ultimate goal of great faith. The truth is that it often takes even greater faith to ask God to help us accept those things we cannot change. If “dissolution” is in order, we can can lean securely on this truth spoken by Paul when he asked the Lord to remove his thorn three times:
“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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).
Paula Masters is the author of “Exceptional Bloom: Coming Alive After Fifty” and the founder of True Source Ministries, an online ministry to hurting women, found at tsmwomen.org. She stays connected with her readers on her “Over Fifty And Fabulous” facebook page and online at OverFiftyandFab.com.