I love a good Healing service. Granted, I never experienced one until I was in Seminary, but from the very first one I recognized their power. This power brought me back to the first time in my life where I experienced real physical healing from pain and how important both pain and healing are to life.
Sometime in early 1983, I began to have some serious issues. Unable to keep my food down, we spent much of the year seeing doctors to try and figure out what was going on. After months of weight loss, stress for my parents and other issues we found a doctor who gave us the greatest gift. He actually told us he did not know what was going on, but validated that something was!
This admission started the ball rolling for a months of tests, procedures, evaluations, and many other things. By Feb. 2, 1984, I was nine and a half years old and forty-five pounds. I was having trouble in school as it’s hard to concentrate when you’re not able to get nutrition. And while I longed to play like other kids, I spent most recesses in the principal's office because I would get so worn out on the playground I would be useless in class. When I entered the hospital that day to have that surgery I would be having a surgery that was almost never done on someone my age so many precautions were taken. That became a theme for me in later surgeries, but that is another story. What was interesting for me was that, as I ate the hamburger the night before the surgery, I knew my life would be forever changed.
The surgery was difficult, but the doctor was surprised at how strong my heart was, especially with the malnutrition caused by the Achalasia (the name for my disorder). The surgery was pronounced successful, yet problems abounded. That hamburger they gave me the night before the surgery found a new home in my lungs and my few days' recovery turned into a couple weeks. Other than the tons of attention you get when you’re a child in an adult ICU, it was a painful time, but recovery came and life changed for me. During this time of healing I learned three important things.
First, I learned that some pain was temporary. This was important because, while I was never the best athlete, I could always outlast my opponents in sports, much to the frustration of my coaches, when I would wait until the end of the match to make my winning move. Later in life, I would find that I could persevere through the most difficult situations, knowing that things change and that with time you can get through anything.
Second, I learned that some pain becomes so much a part of life it becomes normal. Avoiding the churn of stomachs, I won’t go into too much detail here. However, there are many things that I live with that are normal for me but would seem odd for many people. Interestingly, the only time I recognize those painful areas are when others bring them up, and often I realize that while they are painful, in a way I have learned to cope and accept them for what they are. This is something that now, as a middle aged man dealing with injuries and the like, I understand even more!
Third, I learned that some pain can make you stronger. I know it is a cliché but it is true. Not all pain will go away. Not all pain can be integrated into your life, and that is not all bad. Maybe the most important thing I learned is that, when you are in pain, you become more alive. I know it sounds strange, but when I would go through the painful times and have the constant pains that have not ever really been integrated in my life, I find a place of gratitude. Not in some sadomasochistic way but in gratitude for all of the places where I do not have pain reminding me that I have to always strive to live there for the good moments and not let the “pain” take the better of me.
Thus, I really do believe that pain can bring us to a place of gratitude for life which God has given to us. To this day I suffer from the ramifications of the surgeries, not only in the esophagus and stomach but also with my lungs. Moreover, I learned over the years that every time I feel that pain it often comes with gratitude because I realize on a fundamental level that, for me, the alternative to life without that pain is no life at all.
It would be later experiences that would help my faith to grow. I know I have spoken about that before. But at the same time, I think because this started when I was so young, I accepted that it was not something that God had done to me. I think that, as a child, I took for granted God’s presence in my life and did not really think about it. Looking back, what I think was so interesting about my nine-and-a-half year old self was that I could separate the pain from God, accepting that pain would be part of life and really had nothing to do with God.
What is really interesting, and something I think of often, was that the church, more then the hospital, was the place where I found healing. The strength I found was that God and the community were there to support me in my journey.
As we celebrate our healing service tomorrow night we do so asking to reconnect with God. We seek a spiritual healing that will bring us from pain to life and give us hope even within the pain that will always be part of us.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen