The Thorn in My Side

Mary Carlisle Crehore  |  March 07, 2018

“Minister to people out of your weakness” is a phrase I’ve heard in and around RUF while I’ve been an intern, but only now at the end of my internship am I starting to grasp what that really means. Typically, I’ve ministered to students out of a position of strength, which in my brain and in the culture looks like being “awesome”ly capable, self-sufficient, and savior-ish. Only at the point when my weakness was crippling did I need to learn how to channel that into something useful and redemptive for God’s kingdom. I remember Richie Sessions praising God in a sermon that we don’t know what the thorn in Paul’s side was because the vagueness makes it such an appropriate illustration that all of us can relate to it. The thorn in Paul’s side sounds a lot like anxiety to me, but it could just as easily be sexual perversion, drug addiction, self-harm, or any other number of ailments.

This is what anxiety does, and why it feels like a jagged thorn: it stalks, creeps, lurks, and launches itself at you until you are forced, finally worn out by the exhaustion of evading its nasty lies, to confront the message it is trying to tell you. Anxiety usually sounds something like, “You are not okay”, “You are alone and you will always be alone”, “You are not loveable”, or any variation of those lies, so you can imagine that when you finally confront that message it is heart-wrenching and sometimes terrifying work. Earlier in my second year as an intern, I had an anxious episode one night. I woke up from a nightmare in which a demon was trying to attack me, sweaty and crying out in panic. It was vivid and freaky enough to haunt me for the rest of the day, and it followed me everywhere with the thought that “I was not okay”. I called Richie, my former pastor who openly struggles with anxiety, and told him about the dream and the ensuing battle with anxiety that I was fighting. He immediately recognized my situation as a bout with “intrusive thoughts”, and I was relieved that the phenomena I was experiencing was not unique to me and that he understood what it was.

It was then that Richie told me about ministering to students out of that weakness, a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before: connect my intense and intensely personal battle with anxiety to the intense, personal ministry that I was doing and wanted to blossom. We have all had moments when we doubt if we are okay, enough, loved, love-able; anxiety just cranks the volume on those fears way up. My anxiety puts me in touch with fears that we all experience, and it has given me lots of empathy for my students. That conversation with Richie planted a seed for me to love and listen to my students in a way that I had not been able to before. My anxiety has leveled the playing field between me and the people I am trying to love well, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

    It is out of a place of dependence, humbled by my need for peace and security in Jesus, that I can really see people as God sees us: broken, hurting, and totally in need of love. It is out of a place of weakness that “the perseverance of the saints” becomes more beautiful to me, because it is God who gives me the strength to go on, and show up to that one-on-one or Bible study prep, not me. It is in the place that I hope to leave RUF as an intern, forever encouraged that God has always chosen incapable, dependent, needy people to bring His kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. May God grant us the grace and courage to “reach and equip students” to this end, with the hope that none of us need be awesome because He is.

 Mary Carlisle Crehore is currently an intern at the University of Texas at Austin.