Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. — Matthew 15:30 (NIV)
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. – Steps Two and Seven of the 12 steps
Several weeks ago I attended a charismatic worship service. As the musicians played, expertly modulating the spiritual energy in the room, as the liturgical dancers danced with flags and ribbons, as the crowd, arms up, singing and swaying, pressed forward seeking healing from their Source, the ministers of the Word moved among them, praying and touching, before gently lowering the shaking bodies of the healed to the ground. There they lay, as others knelt and guarded them, held them, cried over them until the shaking stopped. Those encircling them moved away only after the eyes of the one healed had opened, wide with the understanding they had been made new by the Holy Spirit.
It was not my first time attending a service like this. But it was my first time in many years, and my first time attending while being aware of a certain desperate need for healing within my own self. I was too self-conscious to walk to the front of the room. I stood in place and watched, tears filling my eyes as I silently prayed that someday I would be courageous enough to let go of my own judgment, to let go of my own cynicism, and give myself over to the mystery and miracle of that type of certainty in God’s immediate healing power.
Since then I’ve thought of this experience frequently. I’ve wondered how those who lay shaking on the floor emerged from the church that day. I’ve considered what might have changed in their lives. I’ve thought about going back, alone, and walking to the front of that room. Looking in the eyes of a minister as she prays fervently, confidently, for my healing, holding my head in her hands.
I’ve thought about being overcome and gently being laid on the ground. I’ve thought about those who would pray over me. I’ve thought about awakening with new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
I’ve thought about what life would be like for me if my brain were instantly rewired by this experience. If suddenly I were “well,” and my troubled thinking became what I have heard referred to as “perfect in Christ Jesus.”
I imagine I would no longer suffer from the sadness and traumas I’ve experienced in this life. I imagine I would no longer struggle with my internalized homophobia, the self-loathing that is constantly reinforced by some Christians and other religious people who take every opportunity to denounce and denigrate me. I imagine I would feel confident about my right to claim my own unique place on the gender continuum, not within the imposed gender binary. I imagine I would no longer be so emotionally sensitive, and never again would I lose myself to tidal waves of tangled feelings that break over me and cause me to lose awareness of my very self.
I imagine I would never feel the need to reach for another numbing agent, not drugs, or drink, or food, or work, or sharp objects.
I want to be the one “from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in [hir] right mind.” (Luke 8:35 NIV)
I want to be healed in a few minutes. I want this for me.
Isn’t that supposed to be what happens if we really believe? Isn’t that how the truly faithful are restored? Isn’t that the reward for having enough faith in God’s omnipotence and the redemptive power of Christ/Sophia and the Living Word?
But this is not my experience. Nor is it the experience of millions upon millions of us who struggle daily with addictions and mental health issues. For years we walked through life expecting something magnificent to happen, some magnanimous soul to come to our aid, and touch us, instantly causing everything to pivot on an unseen axis. In the place where we stood broken only moments before would stand a new person, no longer sick and stuck and facing a life that is utterly unmanageable.
I’ll wait to hear from the one or two people for whom this actually happened. The people who were healed in an instant and were able to walk away having been made new. Who are sure it could happen to any of us, if only we are good enough Christians, and have enough faith.
In the meantime, I’ll explain to you that the rest of us have had to find another way. The rest of us have had to become humbled and humiliated enough to surrender ourselves to a life-long process called recovery. The rest of us are sitting in the offices of treasured therapists, or are drinking coffee in folding chairs in a church basement, or are on the phone with trusted friends and others in recovery. The rest of us are celebrating days clean, sober, or injury free. The rest of us are listening intently to each other, trying to hear the words meant to keep us from giving up on ourselves, again. The rest of us are praying prayers of surrender and serenity each day of our lives.
The rest of us are betting our lives on the fact that healing looks very different, for most people, than just reaching out and touching His cloak.