August 16, 2014
Dear friends and family,
We are back from a long home leave. Eight weeks to luxuriate in family and friends, and help our children connect with a culture and people that are not a part of their daily existence. Eight weeks to wear sweaters and jeans, shiver under blankets and enjoy the bracing air of Northwest summers. Eight weeks of living out of suitcases, making spaces in other people’s places. We are so grateful, to have been and to be home.
For some time now, I have had healing on my mind. I am convinced that even a lifetime of study will not shed full light on the mystery of it. It manifests in as many different ways as there are people and circumstances on this planet.
Our own journey into healing began four years ago, when we were thrust into the active work of healing, immersed in the sheer sweat and discipline that is one of its many faces. Later, healing became a mental and emotional process, the balance of hope and acceptance, my head and my heart in constant dialogue with the faith upon which I rely. Where it began so personally, however, it has evolved into an ever increasing longing to know God’s healing power for others. This is the natural trajectory of the Christian journey through suffering, where personal loss becomes an avenue of comfort for others. (Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor. 1:3-4.) This is where I still find myself.
This redemptive arc that takes personal devastation and imbues it with compassion and care for others is an expression of healing that I find most precious. It is humble and human and commonplace and yet entirely miraculous, a chrysalis birthing beauty and purpose out of rudimentary, primal, self-centered devastation. Four years in, I can almost taste the sweet fruition of this process, pain incubated in faith drawing forth goodness. I long to see the multiplying miracle of faith, feeding 5000 with our puny fistful of loaves and fishes. Only God can do that, and we wait on Him.
Steve is preaching a sermon series this month on the healing of the paralytic. He is breaking his little loaf and offering it to many. The series is an opportunity to look deeper into the fundamentals of healing. Just one of the many noteworthy lessons hidden in the simple story is Jesus’ emphasis on the healing of sin rather than the healing of the body. I tread carefully here, knowing that our good God hates to see his children suffer. Where his reign is complete, there will be no more tears and no more pain. In this story, however, we see His preeminent longing to draw us close, removing every barrier to His presence at the greatest possible price.
In my own exploration of healing I spent some time this summer in a place where miraculous healing is frequent, awaited and proclaimed with expectant joy. God’s goodness was evident as deafness and pain and other ailments were instantaneously healed. It was a taste of heaven. Of course, it was also a messy human event. Not everyone was instantly healed, including my husband and my son. I had an insight as I left that wonderful space. I suddenly understood how someone might be miraculously healed and not return to thank Jesus. (See the story of the ten healed lepers, nine of whom did not return to glorify God in Luke 17:17-19.) Strangely, even in the midst of the miracles happening around us, there was an element of normalcy. I imagined returning from such an event to a home with dirty dishes and laundry and a television set. I imagined returning to snide marital dysfunctions and ungrateful teenagers. In short, I imagined how a perfect miracle lives on in the context of human frailty and imperfection. I could see how physical healing delivers no lasting effect if the heart does not receive healing alongside it. The implications are not only eternal. They are immediate.
It is not wrong to long for physical healing and relief. I long for it, for Steve and for Jude, and for countless others. That longing is an important ingredient in the love and comfort and compassion we are meant to share on this earth. I am glad to know that one day we will all know healing in all its fullness for an eternity. In the meantime, however, we groan for our mortality to be “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). The groaning is hard. This week, the groaning involves cancer and suicide, the ruthless murder of innocent men, women and children in Iraq, the deep and ravaging ethnic strife in Israel and Palestine, and the tragic, unjust killings of black men in America. I do not know the courage it takes to live through these things. Looking out, I sense profoundly that “this world is not our home,” (Heb 13:14).
When faith meets these devastations, what can it say? No words suffice, nor are there sufficient human answers to comfort the grieving mother or the maimed and broken child. The fact is, healing does not always come and this earth is not our home. Looking at the bleak scenes of suffering, I am grateful that the God I love approaches us through the cross. He communicates with his own body where words are not enough, a profound and deeply tested love.
The Christian answer cannot be merely a theology. It must be a living Christ. He loves and touches and heals in ways we cannot. We need each other, but all the more, we need Him. Increasingly, drawing near to God is my greatest treasure. There is nothing sweeter than dwelling in His presence. Knowing His goodness and joy is an ongoing surprise and delight. While physical healing is a beautiful manifestation of His character and of His power, this world is not our home. Ultimately, such miraculous healing has no lasting effect on our mortal condition, and rarely does it in and of itself truly transform a heart. It is a mere exclamation point to that deeper reconciliation and fellowship with God that He already offers us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is what heals us in the deepest and most lasting sense. I have barely scraped the surface of that gift.
As I have meditated on healing this week, these words of Jesus keep coming to mind: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcomethe world. (John 16:33.)We walk both in devastating brokenness and in awe-inspiring victory. Healing is both our ultimate destination and our current process. It is a mystery that troubles us in our present state. We see dimly. But wherever we can share healing with others, in whatever humble or miraculous form, it gives us courage to go on. Ultimately, however, the most important product of healing is a relationship with the Father. For that, we need faith, hope and love. These are the things that abide. And the greatest of these, is love. (1 Cor. 13:13.)