Embracing The Thorn That Bleeds You Dry

It’s been a rough couple months for me. As some of you may know, I’ve struggled with intense anxiety for a number of years. And just to clarify, phsyical anxiety and sinful worry are two very different things. When we worry, it often manifests itself in a sense of physical anxiety. I often (95% of the time) experience physical anxiety when I’m not worried about a thing. I feel like a large hand is squeezing my chest. I need to breathe deeply. It’s hard to concentrate. Worry is a sin. I’m not worrying about anything when I feel anxious. Something is malfunctioning in my body. Neurons are misfiring, or serotonin is not being properly absorbed by my brain.

Thankfully, God has given men and women wisdom to create various medicines that can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Over the years I’ve taken different medicines that have really helped me. But here’s the thing: sometimes these medicines quit working. It’s like one day the medicine says, “You know what, I’m sick of doing my job! I quit!” Recently one my medications turned in its resignation. So, for the last month or so, I’ve felt like a piece of dirt.

But in the midst of feeling like a large animal is sitting on my chest, and being unable to concentrate, and generally feeling awful, I’ve been particularly reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The great Apostle Paul was given a thorn in his flesh. He pleaded with God to remove it. He begged. He cried out. But instead of removing the thorn, God did something better for Paul: he gave him sufficient, powerful, sustaining grace.

God has used this thorn of anxiety to teach me some things. He’s taught me that I’m a weak, frail, fragile, easily broken creature. He’s taught me that I can’t do anything apart from him. I can’t breathe, or preach a sermon, or utter a prayer, or play with my kids apart from the empowerment of God. He’s taught me that if I have any success in ministry, or in being a dad, or in being an author, or in being a husband, it’s because his grace is at work in me. I need to learn and embrace these truths. These are hard, yet sweet truths. The anxiety I am experiencing is a severe mercy.

God may take away my anxiety. I pray that he does. But if he doesn’t, I trust him. I trust that he will give me sufficient grace for each day. I trust that his power will be sufficient for me. I’ll embrace the thorn, because I know the thorn is ultimately held by my Father.

+photo by jenny downing

  • offsetinnocence

    This a really good viewpoint. I've struggled with panic attacks in the past – I know how spiritually/physically/mentally draining they are. And to be able to call them a mercy is God's doing.
    Praying for your strength.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thank you for praying for me!

  • http://keepinitrealgina.com Gina @keepin it real

    Wow! I could have written this post!! Thank you for your transparency! I often get frustrated because I need a little pill to help me…but seeing it as a thorn is so helpful! Thank you for that reminder!

    • Stephen Altrogge

      You're welcome!

  • Rebecca

    I've suffered with anxiety myself. I'm learning to lean more on God through trials and hard times then I ever have before. Thank you for your honesty and that we can still trust God.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      You're welcome. I'm still learning to trust God too!

  • Judy

    Praying for a peace that passes understanding to sweep over you, so that you will have one more reason to praise Him and bring glory to Him. Of course if that doesn't come we know that you will still bring Him glory, because of what He already did for you on the cross and will give you in heaven:o) Blessings to you and yours !!

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thank you so much for your prayers Judy!

  • David Murray

    You expressed that so well, Stephen. Especially appreciated your distinction between worry and anxiety.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thanks David. BTW, we regularly recommend your book.

  • Elaine

    Excellent article, Stephen; thanks for being transparent. I appreciate the encouragement and how you distinguished between worry and anxiety. Praying for you.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thanks for praying for me Elaine. And we're praying for you!

  • Pingback: Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog

  • lisa

    So sorry for your struggles, Stephen! We had no idea how rough the past couple months have been for you. Thanks for posting this; it will surely bless and encourage many. We love you and we're praying for you!

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thanks Lisa. I so appreciate your prayers.

  • Jeannie

    Thanks for your willingness to share your struggles. So many Christians believe it's shameful to admit their weakness, but sharing
    our struggles can be a life line for someone who may be struggling with similar issues.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      You're welcome Jeannie!

  • Gail

    Thanks so much for this post. Depending on who you talk to I suffer from either OCD or generalized anxiety disorder. It's often hard to tell the diference between worry and brain chemistry. My symptoms have diminished lately – Praise the Lord. I'll pray the same for you!

  • Maria

    I didn't know this about you, Stephen, which is such a great testimony to the grace of God working in you. I'll keep praying…

  • Vickie

    Isn't God so good. After we give up the fight and totally, I mean totally trust him (because he is in control) then there is peace in our heart. I have anxiety as well and take medication but I still have joy and peace.
    Praying for you brother. Thank you for the post.

  • http://twitter.com/lidialimardo @lidialimardo

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I praise God for giving you the strength to glorify Him in the middle of your struggles. He is good and He is faithful. Praying for His continuos grace upon you. Blessing!

  • John Thomson


    I understand pretty well where you are. Your experience has been mine (and sometimes still is). The only thing I have discovered in my own case over the years is that while there are no specific causes (unless I create some once anxiety has a hold) nevertheless a simpler slower life greatly helps. I got early retirement at 50 and I am now more able to live within my (nervous) energy limits (which are much less than that of others). This has greatly helped me. I still have dips (and wonder if medication is not working) but these are less severe and largely are to do with greater tiredness but no anxiety. The anxiety I have no doubt would hit in if life forced upon me more commitments than my system seems willing to accept.

    Like you the eye in the storm of anxiety I found to be digging deep in trusting the Lord. I also found it helpful to repeat, almost mantra like, 'I trust in the Lord and do one thing at a time slowly'.

    I write as someone who was a schoolteacher and a regular preacher and elder in my church and (in the case of preaching) elsewhere.

    I have written this almost reluctantly because I know when we are anxious it is all too easy to latch on to something and I don't want to write anything that may further confuse or create anxiety.

    I have no desire to experience these anxieties at the levels I did again yet it remains true that in them I learned God and his sweetness in a way I otherwise would not have done. That is not to understate the very real threat the anxiety was making me wish for an escape however extreme. God gave me daily grace to trust. Apart from 'trusting thoughts' I tried to keep my mind as blank as I could. I know some question this but like a broken leg what the injured mind needs is rest and not too much pressure.

    God bless.

  • Dee Jae

    Sometimes we encounter things in order for God to instill in us that we have the power through Him who loves us to overcome, I hear your story and I feel your pain but if we have faith and declare and speak to our mountain, whatever it may be I strongly believe, in fact I know it will move in Jesus name. Be blessed.