I think most of can relate to St. Paul’s “thorn” and have possibly even used the phrase “a thorn in my side” when referring to some troublesome person or situation.
It can be a family member, co-worker or friend who can get under my skin. Everyday situations and encounters—even a two-minute wait in line at the bank or grocery store—can feel like I am being pricked by a thorn.
When I am impatient, when I am reacting rather than acting or when I am rolling my eyes, I know I am having a thorn moment, that someone has done something that pushes my buttons.
What I find most helpful in those moments is to step back, take a few deep breaths and try to get some perspective.
Why is this particular person bugging me? What about a particular situation frustrates or upsets me? What is happening in my life that is unsettling me?I gained a deeper understanding of St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians when I lived in l’Arche, where I lived very closely with people not of my choosing—people who came from different cultures and had different values. Clashes were bound to happen.
Facing disappointment after disappointment was disheartening, and it took me some time to see what was really happening—that that I was facing my unmet expectations. You are not in control, God seemed to be reminding me. Your way is not the only way. Those were tough truths to see and accept.
I learned many things in l’Arche, including the theory that when someone is pushing my buttons it is because they are revealing some part of me that I don’t particularly like and don’t want to see. Every time I was annoyed, I needed to stop looking at the other person and start examining myself.
The thorns in my life can reveal deeper truths about me, if I can be open and willing to face those truths.
The person I think is being stingy invites me to look at my own stinginess or lack of generosity. The one I see as needy invites me to look at my own insecurities.
The person who zips ahead of me in a line of cars reminds me that I, too, sometimes feel self-important. The person who exaggerates or even outright lies reminds me that I, too, sometimes may want to seem more accomplished than I am. The person who insists that her way is the right or only way to do something reminds me that I, too, like to have my way.
It can be easier to insist the problem is the situation or other person, but, I think, not very helpful.
With God’s grace—and lots of thorny experiences—I have come to see that every button-pushing experience, every thorn in my side, is really an invitation to growth in self-awareness and self-knowledge.
Accepting my weaknesses enables me to live in grace and to allow God to be in charge of my life.