By Roxanne Smith
Have you ever prayed for healing and felt betrayed when God’s answer was “No” or “Wait”? Have you known other Christians who received God’s healing and wondered, “Why not me?” This question has been a big part of my adult life. And I’ve learned that there is more than one type of healing. There are at least four!
I started learning about types of healing when I became disabled at age 27. Without warning, severe spinal pain exploded into my existence. Frightening levels of pain took over and demanded my attention. This pain insisted on ruling over me and dictating my life.
My life changed completely. There was life before, and life after, the pain.
It turned out I had a rare form of early onset degenerative disc disease. There were genetic factors from both of my parents. My discs didn’t rupture or move out of place. They tore internally and set up a crazy inflammatory response. Imagine if someone hit your thumb one hundred times with a hammer. That’s what standing up with these inflamed discs felt like to me. Excruciating.
I went from being able-bodied, athletic, and active, to being sidelined, shut out, and so, so sad. How can I describe the shock of this abrupt change? I went from a vertical life to a horizontal life. I went from playing tennis and running 10k races to needing to lie down 22 hours a day. I went from enjoying living in my body to wanting to escape my body and its unrelenting pain.
I went from enjoying living in my body to wanting to escape my body and its unrelenting pain.
Did I mention I had just gotten married? Andy was a great guy, but he hadn’t signed up for this!
The pain threw all of our plans into a tornado of confusion and strain. Canceled honeymoon … uncertain future … grieving lost hopes of what married life would be.
And the faith wrestling. Oh, my. I begged God in prayer to take the pain away.
Urgent, pleading prayers. Tear-stained prayers. Agonizing dark night of the soul prayers.
I wanted whatever was wrong in my spine to be made right. We pursued all the medical channels, everything from rest to physical therapy, from pain clinics to surgical attempts to eradicate the pain. Nothing really worked.
We prayed for God to guide the medical process. We prayed for a miraculous healing, if God wanted to work in that way. We prayed for God to work in whatever way He deemed best. Just please, God, stop my pain and restore me to a normal life.
At one point our church even held a medical fundraiser to send me to Europe for a surgery that wasn’t available in the U.S. We explored every avenue, left no stone unturned.
And yet. No physical healing from my pain.
I remain disabled by pain. I have to lie down 22 hours every day. If you see me standing up, you should know it’s just for a few minutes. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to talk. I’m counting the minutes in my head, knowing it’s urgent that I lie down again very soon. If I don’t, the pain will flare to intolerable levels. Pain flares last for days, weeks, even months.
Although I don’t understand why, God chose not to give me physical healing. I guess I am like St. Paul, who prayed for healing from a thorn in his flesh. God’s answer to him was also “No.”
Although I don’t understand why, God chose not to give me physical healing.
2 Corinthians 12:9: “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
If God chooses to bring you physical healing, it may not look the way you expect. It could be partial or complete. It could be instantaneous or slow and gradual. It could be miraculous (supernatural) or occur through more natural means.
Either way, the healing is from Him.
James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Our heavenly Father is the source of every good gift we receive. If He blesses you with physical healing, thank Him for it!
My emotions, normally fairly stable, were thrown into a blender. I was making smoothies every day with ingredients like fear, anger, sadness, and displacement. I couldn’t go to work anymore. I couldn’t really leave the apartment. It was really hard just making it to the bathroom or getting breakfast or lunch from the fridge. And the hours dragged as I was forced to spend the day lying down but still couldn’t escape the pain.
Andy never knew what he was going to find when he got home from work. I could be hopeful or despairing. I could be trusting or on the verge of a panic attack. I could be feeling connected or feeling abandoned. And always there was the relentless pain.
Most days there were tears. I would pour out my heart of anguish to my new husband. He would let me cry. He would lean in and listen. Really listen. Then he’d say something really comforting, like “If I were you right now, I’d feel the same way you do.” He’d rub my back. He’d hold my hand. He’d be there.
As it turns out, depression is a frequent companion to pain. The constant noxious input of pain signals in the brain can cause depression. It’s physiological. So antidepressants became a necessary part of my life.
I saw a Christian counselor, as well, trying to make sense of the changes in my life. I had to grieve what I’d lost to be ready to accept what could be. My counselor urged me to accept my life as it was, even while trying to find answers to the pain. I chose to redefine successful living, incorporating life with a disability. My emotions started leveling out. That was the beginning of my emotional healing.
I had to grieve what I’d lost to be ready to accept what could be.
Having Andy as my husband was hugely helpful. He cared. He listened. He helped in many ways. He stood by me and didn’t leave. God had provided a caring husband for me before I even knew how badly I would need him! Andy’s support and love for me was an enormous source of emotional healing.
Emotional health can be defined. It’s not the absence of sadness or negative emotions. Emotional health is being able to move in and out of different emotions rather quickly, without getting stuck. It’s being able to experience the full range of emotions which God created for us. It’s having an identity beyond one’s feelings at the moment.
Emotional health is being able to move in and out of different emotions rather quickly, without getting stuck.
St. Luke has a prayer ministry which offers prayer for people with traumatic memories. It is available on Monday nights at 7 p.m.
If God chooses to bring you emotional healing, it may not look like you expect. It could be partial or complete. It could be instantaneous or slow and gradual. It could be miraculous (supernatural) or occur through more natural means.
If God wasn’t going to heal me physically, I actually wasn’t sure what faith was for. I guess I had always secretly believed that God would rescue me if things got bad enough. I probably believed that since He loved me, if our wills differed on something really important, I could change His mind. Especially since what I wanted was a good thing.
I wasn’t asking for success or status or selfish things, I was asking for health. I thought that was the best way my life could be useful to God. If He fixed me, I could serve Him again. And of course, I wanted to be fixed; it’s much more comfortable for me to be strong than weak.
I had worked full time as a physical therapist before my pain started. Didn’t God know how many people I could help if I could return to work? Before pain I had climbed mountains. Now I had difficulty making it out to the mailbox. Being fully restored to my active life was clearly preferable for me. Surely God would see it the same way! I think that’s what I really believed.
Being fully restored to my active life was clearly preferable for me. Surely God would see it the same way! I think that’s what I really believed.
But God is not human. He is transcendent. He doesn’t think the way we humans do.
Isaiah 55:8-10: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
So part of spiritual wrestling, for me, was learning to accept that. Learning to let God be God, and to submit my will to His will for me. Learning to pray like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Matthew 26:39: “’My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” “Thy will be done.” We say it so glibly when we recite the Lord’s Prayer. But do we really mean it?
Submitting my will to God’s will was gut-wrenchingly hard. But it was a big part of my spiritual healing. So did this mean that God had caused my pain? Is that what it meant, that His will was being done?
Submitting my will to God’s will was gut-wrenchingly hard.
Part of my spiritual healing involved learning the difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. God’s perfect will expressed itself in the way He created the world. Without flaw. And the people He placed in it? Adam and Eve were perfect. They wouldn’t get sick. They would never die. But after their fall into sin, the world changed. Now sickness was a reality. Now people could die.
So God’s will became a permissive will. He exercised His will in the context of a broken world.
What does He do with suffering? He uses it. He redeems it. He doesn’t cause it, but He allows the brokenness of the world to make people aware of their need for God. And ultimately, He wants to save all people through His Son Jesus.
When Jesus returns to earth and God creates a new heaven and earth, His perfect will resumes. I won’t be disabled when God gives me eternal life one day. I’ll have a new, perfected body that will never get sick or die. I take great comfort in that promise of God. I hold on to that future hope like it’s a life preserver.
When Jesus returns to earth and God creates a new heaven and earth, His perfect will resumes.
I have not received physical healing. That’s not guaranteed. But spiritual healing is easy to receive. It’s a free gift, through Jesus. He offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That’s what I’m thrilled to receive!
And spiritual healing isn’t just a future hope. God enters our “now” and gives us strength to face our pain. He helps us do something we could never do without Him, by giving us His strength and His peace. He isn’t a distant God. By His Holy Spirit He actually promises to live in us. So by extension He feels our pain. He suffers it with us. We aren’t alone in it.
And that’s the definition of spiritual healing. Having a degree of peace with God. Having a true relationship with Him. Seeing ourselves as His forgiven children. Spiritual healing is seeing and experiencing God’s love first, our circumstances second.
Social healing happens when a person with limitations or struggles is accepted and supported by his or her community. For example, at St. Luke we have a young girl with extreme peanut allergies. In response, St. Luke has become a nut-free zone. In my case, I can’t sit for more than a few minutes because of my pain. St. Luke has provided a room where I can lie down while I’m in worship.
We have children with special needs in our church. To provide support, St. Luke offers a Special Needs Ministry. Volunteers are paired up with these children so their parents can have a night out. There are kids with autism at St. Luke. We are growing in understanding how to help them.
When people are hospitalized, the pastors, elders, or a deacon try to visit. Shut-ins can receive visits from members of our congregation. We want them to know that they, too, are an important part of our community. Anyone struggling with grieving, loss, or any of life’s challenges, can request a Stephen Minister.
Social healing also includes giving people with limitations or struggles the chance to serve their community. We have a young woman with Down Syndrome who serves as an acolyte. In my case I am not able to volunteer for many roles, but I am able to serve as a blogger and as a Stephen Minister.
Just like the other types of healing, social healing is a gift from God. It’s His way of bringing out compassion in our community. He can use weakness to arouse compassion in the strong. In some ways, He is testing our love for each other. Are we willing to be flexible, to think creatively, to meet each others’ needs as they arise?
He can use weakness to arouse compassion in the strong.
How about you? What kind of healing do you long for? Pray, by all means! Ask God to help you with your struggle. But be ready to see His answer as NOT being all or nothing. Look for physical, emotional, spiritual, or social healing. Look for it in degrees. And when you receive it, remember Who the source is and give Him your thanks.