So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, 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.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10

As a counselor, I primarily work with suffering people. Most don’t choose to come to therapy until things have gotten so bad that their pain pushes them outside their comfort zone and into my office. (This is not always the case; over the years, I have had some come to see me because they wanted to take their lives from good to great.) For most, though, it’s about seeking relief from the pain.

On my intake paperwork is a question about strengths. I ask each potential client to identify assets we can leverage to help them achieve their goals. Countless people have left this question blank. Their struggle is so overwhelming, exhausting and frustrating that they cannot recognize any positive qualities in themselves. The ironic thing is, the people who come to counseling are some of the strongest I’ve ever met. Many of them have survived horrific trauma and kept on going. They have the humility to admit they need help, immersed in a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps society that looks upon self-sufficiency as a strength and equates humbleness with weakness. They dig deep, finding the courage to risk reaching out to me and fight for what they want and need. Tons of strength there, but they don’t recognize it.

Being a counselor also means that I get to witness the intimacy between my clients and God. The struggle and the pain have the power to bring people close to the One who loves them wholeheartedly. Truly, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). And it’s his nearness that takes my breath away. They are weary, soul-beaten, and in that vulnerable state they can feel the presence of God like never before. It is a life-transforming experience to know that you know that God is real and he is really near, sustaining you. Not every person gets that life-transforming privilege. Those who have felt the Lord in such a tangible way are forever changed.

How can this be the “best year still”? Because our pain is often the portal to the power of Christ. When we are weak, Christ’s strength manifests itself clearly, undeniably. Maybe God wants to rescue you from your “thorn in the flesh.” On the other hand, maybe he wants to use that thorny struggle to break down every barrier between your heart and his. Either way, the ultimate result will be to our benefit and his glory! And you will be transformed more into the image of the Son, who suffered and died so that he could be near to you.