Paul wrote in the passage above that he suffered from "a thorn in the flesh." He never said what it was, but there are plenty of theories. Some say it was a physical ailment. Others believe it was discouragement. Some even say that it was a certain person that was a hinderance to Paul's ministry. Whatever it was, it bothered Paul enough to pray three times for God to remove it. In verse 9, God tells Paul that he will have to continue dealing with the problem, but that His grace was sufficient to help him bear it.
Now, it's easy to read those scriptures and say, "What?! God wouldn't heal him? But it was Paul! You know, the preacher, missionary, martyr, etc!" Why wouldn't God heal someone who was so obviously devoted to doing His work? I can't pretend to know what God's reasons are, but I believe He always has a reason. God didn't remove Paul's affliction, but He gave him the strength to carry on despite it.
We all deal with stuff. Sometimes it's physical. We deal with personal sickness, or the sickness of a loved one. Other times we deal with financial troubles, or problems with family or work or even church. We go through hard times and think, 'God, where are you?' I say "we" because I'm right there too. For me, my biggest difficulty comes in an emotional form. I struggle with Depression.
It's not just the occassional blahs that everyone gets sometimes. I have dealt with Clinical Depression for most of my life. I'm not writing this to gain anyone's pity. This is just my personal struggle. I have undergone therapy and counseling which have been truly helpful, but I still have times when the dark clouds roll in and I find myself struggling to do everyday tasks. It's something that never fully goes away. It's my thorn.
Paul referred to his problem as "the messenger of Satan to buffet me," and I think it's an apt description. I believe in my case that Satan does use it against me. He finds those moments of weakness, and then puts in a little seed of self-doubt and discouragement. "You are worthless," he whispers. "No one really likes you. They all think you're a loser." Sometimes he gets really bold and tells me, "If God really cared about you, He wouldn't have made you this way. You wouldn't have to deal with this."
As ridiculous as those things sound, sometimes I begin to believe them. Sometimes I allow myself to get so down that I just start wallowing in Satan's lies. There are times when it just seems easier to give in and let myself sink into self-pity. I start to question God and His wisdom. Why would He make someone he supposedly loves go through something like that? Why do we have to suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?
I have found over the years that as low as I sink, it's never too low for God to reach me. I have reached points where I was ready to give up and end it all. However, in those darkest moments He held on to me and didn't let me go. He would speak to me gently and say, "Shhh, it's all right. I'm still here and I do see you. I understand how you feel, and I care. Just keep trusting me to take care of you. You know I always will." In those times I have to admit that I do know. I look back at other times in my life when He was all I had, but all I needed. He has worked miracles in my life. He has brought me through some dark days, and He continues to lead me through the rough patches in my life.
I know that I will always deal with Depression, but God constantly reminds me that His grace is sufficient to get me through the battles. He's not going to let me sink. He's not going to let me go. As Paul writes in verse 10, I can have joy in my infirmities and distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.
His grace is sufficient for me.