Sometimes I feel like the other nine lepers, who walked away healed but did not turn around to say thank you. I remember being in Sunday school learning the lesson, vilifying those ungrateful ex-lepers, praising the one who went “walking and leaping and praising God.” It isn’t that I don’t appreciate it, or don’t want to glorify God. It is simply that I do not know what to say. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I don’t want to testify flatly to a full and round story.
The healing I can talk about. It was one of the first things I wrote. Drop the insecurities, cling to the cross. Easy peasy.
What I don’t talk about, what I don’t write about is the waiting. The in-between. The half-dozen times that I named it and claimed it, asked for healing. I let sisters and brothers and strangers alike, put their hands on me and pray to our God for healing. I believed it would come. Only to find myself at the doctor again, having yet another specialist insist it was my thyroid and poke me with a needle while exclaiming “wow your veins are tricky!” (Spoiler: It was never, ever, not even one time, my thyroid.)
Every single time I was prayed for, it was like climbing up a high dive ladder, stepping out on the board of hope and leaping off of it, only to discover there was no water in the pool. Flat on my face on the concrete, every single time. And every time I made that climb to hope it was two steps higher, the impact of the unanswered prayer hurt that much more.
My dad sometimes wonders why more people don’t step forward when the altar is opened and the prayers are waiting, but I understand. I know the cost of climbing that ladder, I know why it feels safer to take a pass rather than take that leap. Sometimes I would land right into the pool of others people’s well-meaning words.
The things people said, heart-felt and purposeful, looking me dead in the eye, those things sometimes hurt just as bad. “Abby, it is because you are so strong, that is the answer to the why me.” So you are telling me that the all mighty all loving God made me strong so He could afflict me with constant pain? “Abby, have you tried more sleep?” I have been tired for three years, but no, it never occurred to me to sleep more! “Just choose joy, just don’t feel that way. Pick Jesus.” Or my personal favorite “are you right with God? Do you have any sin you haven’t dealt with?” I don’t know have you dealt with all the sin in your life? Oh, you haven’t? and yet you are not afflicted with daily pain and exhaustion. Huh, must just be me. Don’t even get me started on “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Let’s just say you shouldn’t tell a middle-aged church lady that perhaps those mysterious ways suck. Apparently suck isn’t a word a teenage girl is supposed to use in the church sanctuary. Even if she is sick.
The most holy thing that anyone ever said to me was when my Mom enclosed my 14-year-old body in her arms. As I sat in her lap and wailed she told me “It is okay to be mad at God. I am mad at him too. David was mad at him. He is big enough to take it.” The relief in that moment that I was not bad for being angry, that relief was like the breath you take when you have held it for too long. It almost made me dizzy.
Now that I am healed, now that it is all over, there is so much more that I understand. What’s all that about hindsight being 20/20? Because looking back it is so easy to insist that it is all so clear. When that isn’t the whole truth, while there is more I now understand, there is even more I don’t know how to say.
When I look at the time that I spent sick, I can see the way the Lord met me. The tangible dependence, the reality of not being able to get out of bed unless the Lord willed it. I learned how to depend on the church as the body when mine didn’t work. I watched as the Lord really was most glorified in the weakest of my moments. I tuned my ear to His voice out of physical necessity and know that helps me hear Him now. I am grateful for all the divine appointments when I was too tired to go anywhere and someone “randomly” showed up to talk and the Lord allowed me to speak truth into their life. I am grateful that I found a church family happy to have me sitting on the floor. I know that as painful and terrible, and unfair as it all was, God used my illness to make me more like Jesus.
When my friend from work has a bout with her chronic illness, when an acquaintance from a summer job gets afflicted with the exact same thing I had, I want to look them dead in the face and promise the healing that was extended to me. I want to assure them that God wants more for them than chronic pain. I believe he does, I believe God desires us to be healed. But I also know that it isn’t always in the time or place we think it is, that for some the promise of a new body later is the best they will do this side of heaven. Even if they deal with all of their spiritual issues, even if they are filled all the way up with faith.
I want to walk and leap and praise God like that one holy leper. I do come to the cross eternally grateful that I am not crying out in pain. I will never ever deserve the mercy of healing the Lord had for me, and am so amazed by the luxurious gift the Lord gave me, even past the gift of life. But I also know the importance of treading lightly, of just how scary and painful hope can be sometimes. I don’t ever want to add to the pain and suffering by speaking words that indicate you are partly to blame for your illness.
I want everyone to be introduced to The Great Physician, even when I know he won’t always write the prescription we are asking of Him. I want to Praise the Lord for my healing, but how do you talk about something you don’t understand?