Last week I visited with a surgeon to talk about my case. I gave him my extensive medical history, he saw the pictures of my barely functioning digestive system, and asked me, “How can you be so relaxed and with a smile on your face?”
My response was simple: “Well, I am a pastor.” We chuckled a bit and I said, “No, seriously, I’ve been dealing with this for 36 years. What other choice do I have?”
Divine healing is something that I always find frustrating. It seems so random and unfair. The biblical stories of healing often have a huge element of luck¾being at the right place at the right time to encounter Christ, or having the means by which you could travel to Christ to be healed. More than that, the insistence that someone’s faith can heal is downright frustrating. When I was a teen, this made me so angry, because I had faith, but even when I was healed, nothing was ever normal, and though technically healed, it never really was fully resolved.
What my frustration with the stories was is simple. I was jealous of those who experienced that healing. I had been faithful all of my life, yet no prayer would be enough to heal me. In fact, most likely these issues of my youth would come back to cause more issues later in my life. To me, it was not fair.
One of the greatest blessings I had was when I was required to spend six months in the chaplaincy program at Marin General. This was not something that I was looking forward to, and actually for a time, I thought I had successfully talked my way out of it. Thankfully, the Presbyterian Church requires rotation on all of its committees so that new eyes can bring new perspective. In a kind way, the new committee said that if there was anyone who needed to be in a hospital setting, it was me. And they were right!
One of the things I had to confront was my own frustration that when people would ask for prayers of healing, which were genuinely given by incredibly faithful people, they were rarely answered. After a particularly hard afternoon, I went to the head chaplain and talked about the issues that I was having.
He asked me to reread the healing stories and look closer at the miracles that happened. I reread them a couple of times and just got more frustrated. All of them had faith and all of them were healed. I knew I was missing something. The head chaplain sat with me the next day and asked what I had learned. Pensively, I answered: “I really don’t know, only that faith is the key to healing, and maybe I just don’t have enough.”
The head chaplain laughed, “You’re not thinking about what you’re reading. First, the healings show the power of Christ while he was here; he is no longer here. Secondly, when taking the healings in context of the gospels, the physical healings, even the earthly resurrection of Lazarus, are temporary. He uses the healing as a sign of the ultimate healing, a grace that says that no matter who or what you are, God will heal you from this world and welcome you to the next.”
I learned that day that healing was not always about getting better, it was always about grace. So, for some, healing was getting back to “normal,” but for many, it is finding peace with a disorder or ailment that will never go away and learning to live with it; and yes, for others still, healing is the earthly death when they are freed from the pains of this world and made whole again with Christ.
This is how I take my situation; it is what it is. As I accept the reality of my life, I find the strength in Christ to accept his grace and live fully now and forever.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen