cactus flowers

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.” 2 Cor. 12: 8-9, ESV


It was December 2022 when breaking news worldwide reported singer and recording artist Celine Dion’s diagnosis of Stiff-person Syndrome (SPS).

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Stiff-person Syndrome (SPS) is a rare, progressive neurological disorder. [1] It presents with symptoms that may include stiff muscles in the trunk (torso), arms, and legs, extreme sensitivity to noise, touch, and emotional distress, which can set off painful, uncontrollable muscle spasms. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this often-misdiagnosed autoimmune syndrome. There are currently 1 in one million people diagnosed with SPS.

I was saddened to learn of Celine Dion’s diagnosis, and I pray for her because I know firsthand the pain and devastation the disease can cause. Her position of influence may shine a light on SPS, raise awareness, and hopefully be a voice and catalyst to generate more treatment research.

So why write a devotional about SPS?

I write because one of the 1 in a million people with SPS is my friend and brother in Christ. His name is Zachary. While his story, like most with the condition, did not make headline news, eyewitness accounts from his parents, family, and friends echo familiar stories of this young man’s painfully difficult but encouraging journey. He is living with the thorn of SPS and demonstrating his steadfast love for and faith in God.

Zachary was twenty-four when SPS’s debilitating and painful symptoms pulled the rug from under him. An active and vibrant young man went from working as an officer to moving home and being dependent on his parents for care.

I recall rushing to the hospital in the early phases of medical staff searching for a diagnosis. But, as a career registered nurse, nothing in my experience prepared me to see Zachary in bed experiencing uncontrolled muscle spasms so violently that the entire bed shook. He was sweating profusely, and the cardiopulmonary resuscitation cart (CPR) appeared in his room as his heart raced at a dangerously high rate. Nearby were his parents in tears, and the lead Pastor of our church, also in tears. We cried out in prayer, pleading to God on Zachary’s behalf.

In 2 Cor. 12: 8, the Apostle Paul pleads with God to remove a “thorn in his flesh.” While many have speculated about this thorn, the Bible does not tell us the nature of his affliction. A thorn, translated (skolops), means anything pointed, like the end of a fishhook or a splinter. A sharp, pointed object that we couldn’t remove from our body would cause severe pain. I believe his condition significantly impacted his daily life and caused him so much frustration, pain, and suffering that he prayed to God three times to remove it.

So, what was God’s answer to Paul’s request?

God did not remove the condition from Paul, who describes his suffering in 2 Cor. 11: 24-27, which included receiving 39 lashes from the Jews five times, being beaten with rods, being shipwrecked, and so much more. Nevertheless, Paul served God, enduring all these trials with a physical ailment that nagged him like a sharp pointed object in his flesh.

God did not remove Paul’s condition, but he answered his prayer, just not in the way Paul may have expected. I love how the NET Bible translation expresses God’s response to Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9, “But he said to me, my grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The Scripture tells us why God did not remove Paul’s ailment. But for most of us, things happen in our lives (chronic illness, suffering, and other calamities), and we may never know why. Paul’s testimony reminds us to trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace to provide us with everything we need.

It’s been eleven years since that day in Zachary’s hospital room. God didn’t cure his SPS. He has endured severe pain and suffering, more surgeries than I can remember, numerous hospital admissions, treatments for SPS, learning to walk again, and many sleepless nights. His parents are still navigating the complexities of the healthcare system and becoming their son’s primary caregivers. But in all these things, even in their weakest moments, Zachary and his parents demonstrate that the grace of God is enough, and He continues to provide them with everything they need. They learned to live life to the fullest with a thorn.

But how is God’s power perfect in our weakness?

The profound truth we learn from Paul is that our strength is not in our abilities, intellect, resources, or the absence of illness or hardships. The strength of the believer is in the power of God. It is in our weakness that we recognize how desperately we need God. His strength is always there for us and sustains us through the highs and lows of life’s challenges.

“The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”
Billy Graham

[1] (www.ninds.nih.gov, n.d.)


Talulah Ruger, RN, MSN, MACE is a retired oncology nurse, Bible teacher, motivational speaker and training for women’s ministry and people 50+ and writer. She is also an instructor for the Opened Bible Academy in Houston.