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 (2 Corinthians 12:9).
There has been much conjecture about what specific weakness, what thorn in the flesh, Paul is referring to in this passage. Inner grief? Demons? A physical affliction? Since he mentions the flesh, most would argue that this weakness was physical in some way, with poor eyesight as a possible culprit. Paul prays that this thorn be removed, but when it remains, he chooses to let Christ’s power shine through it. Though we don’t know precisely the nature of Paul’s weakness, we can agree that physical weakness falls within the scope of counseling application from this text. As counselors, there is much we can learn from this!
Weaknesses in the Bible often refer to illness or a consequence of illness. As a physician, I see physical suffering every day. Some weaknesses we are born with, such as blindness or cerebral palsy. Others may have a genetic component and show up later in life, such as weak eyesight or diabetes. Still others may be a result of trauma or poor lifestyle choices such as brain injury or heart attacks. There are even those weaknesses that come seemingly out of nowhere and appear to afflict people at random, such as cancer or dementia. Some weaknesses are correctable with time or medicine. Others we live with for a lifetime. Some even get progressively worse.
Although Paul gladly boasted in his weakness, he did struggle with it as well. Three times he pleaded with the Lord that his weakness be removed.
My own aging body is a daily reminder that none of us can escape the inevitability of weaknesses. Back pains that come and go without warning. Having no recollection of why I entered a room. Not hearing my wife’s to-do list (ok, maybe that’s a heart issue). These weaknesses are likely trivial compared to what physical sufferings many of our counselees go through. Some are in constant pain. Others are unable to perform simple tasks that they once could. Some take multiple medications with nasty side effects just to make it through each day. And this suffering often affects our emotions and general well-being.
In other words, as counselors we should carefully consider the contributions that physical weaknesses might play in the complicated problems we deal with.
To that end, a few guidelines to help us think through weaknesses:
1. Physical weaknesses are not sinful.
Weaknesses are a consequence of living in a fallen world, but they are not due to personal sin (John 9:3). They may exacerbate sin in the heart, but ultimately sin comes from the heart–which must be dealt with.
2. Physical weaknesses do not need to be corrected.
Some physical ailments are correctable – and those need to be addressed by a physician. However, many weaknesses cannot be cured. Our goal in these cases is not necessarily to find a way to get rid of a weakness or only pray for miraculous healing but to help our counselees live well with these weaknesses—to honor God in how they live with the weakness.
3. Physical weaknesses’ effects can and should be minimized.
Alzheimer’s patients, suffering from degenerative weaknesses in the brain, often cope better when structure and familiarity are brought into their lives. In the same way, we should find practical ways to afford relief to those who are suffering from physical ailments. Social networks, medications, physical or occupational therapy are some examples of modalities that might bring a measure of relief. Alleviating symptoms also allows counselees to focus better on dealing with false idols or false worship in the heart.
4. Physical weaknesses have a purpose.
Although physical weaknesses entered the world because of sin’s corrupting influence, God still can use these present ailments for a good purpose.
His works, his mercy, his care are displayed through physical hardship (John 9:3). We are reminded of his love for us as he comforts us in our suffering.
Paul’s weakness kept him from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Weaknesses are ultimately a reminder of our need for and dependence on Christ.
In weakness we know God’s grace and power (2 Corinthians 12:9). God graciously works through and in spite of people’s weaknesses to display his great power.
God sanctifies us through our weaknesses. Paul learned to be content even when his prayers for relief from his thorn were not answered (2 Corinthians 12:10). Physical suffering may reveal our self-reliance, our unhealthy desires for a healthy body, our dependence on our own strength and abilities, our lack of trust in God’s ways and plans, etc. Weaknesses do an amazing job of revealing the heart and what the heart really wants.
Contentment is also found when we realize that God is more focused on the inner man – he is working to renew our inner self day by day even though the outer self is wasting away. And when we learn to live in light of eternity, our present sufferings become light momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Since most of us are not doctors, it is easy to shy away from or be fearful of dealing with physical weaknesses. Yet we must be mindful and ask about our counselees’ physical health and condition. Physical suffering need not be a hindrance, but an opportunity to point people to Christ, the great physician!
Join the Conversation
Have you considered the role of weaknesses in your counselees’ spiritual struggles? What does it look like for your counselee to be content in their weaknesses?