I have to admit that I don’t read nearly as much as I should. But I did read something in a recent Christian Century that caught my attention – partly because of my own home situation and partly because of a conversation with a parishioner about something her daughter had said. In all three cases, the subject is healing – and specifically, where God is in it.
First, here’s my situation. Since 2001, my wife has been struggling with lupus. Hers is a particularly nasty case that attacks her cardiopulmonary system. It nearly killed her when she was first diagnosed; and now it’s causing pulmonary artery hypertension, a chronic, progressive condition from which one typically doesn’t recover. As you might guess, we’ve done a lot of praying in the last eight years, asking God for healing. Do we expect God to reach into our present situation, snap the divine fingers, and bring an end to her disease? Certainly I wouldn’t say God can’t do that. But I’ve also sat with too many people who’ve watched loved ones die to think that if they had only prayed harder, they would have gotten the outcome they wanted.
Second, here’s the conversation that a parishioner reported having with her daughter. The little girl, who’s four, has a chronically ill family member. She said to her mother that she thought God and Jesus were praying for her family member to get better – but that, by implication, she wasn’t expecting God actually to bring about a cure, and certainly not in some impressively miraculous way. Does that reveal inadequate four-year-old faith, or perhaps inadequate witness by her parents (and her priest)? Or is it a fairly astute, four-year-old way of coming to terms with the mystery that God heals us in the end, despite the fact that impressive miracles usually don’t come when we want them?
Third, here’s the article I mentioned – “Accidental lessons” by William H. Willimon (pp. 30-33 of the April 21, 2009, Christian Century; unfortunately, this article isn’t available on the magazine’s website). Willimon is one of the best writers and preachers anywhere, as well as a bishop in the United Methodist Church. I won’t give away his story except to say that he’s recently gone through his own time of healing after enduring a rather nasty accident. In his article, Willimon reflects on prayers for healing, God’s agency in healing, and our expectations about what healing means in our cure-obsessed culture. Ironically, Willimon argues, our expectations about God’s power to cure us are too small. Rather than simply wanting to cure us and put us back where we were, God desires healing for us … which most often doesn’t look like the cure we want. And, on top of that, it usually comes with something else we didn’t expect – some new shade of vocation to help heal a hurting world.
When the bishops and the four-year-olds agree, I tend to think they’re on to something. May God grant me the grace to be open to true healing, and may God grant me responsiveness to the holy calls that come along with it.