Here’s a paper I wrote for Pastoral Care class about an experience with healing.
When I was going through cancer treatment and surgeries in my teenage years, all I could think about was getting well. I thought surviving cancer would be the answer. But, it turns out, that being the one who survived has actually led to more questions.
I have had many occasions to think about this idea of healing. What does it mean to be healed anyway? Early in my life, I believe that I was healed because I wasn’t dead. Other times I believed I was not healed because I didn’t have my leg and God hadn’t spontaneously replaced it for me. Healing can mean so many things. My experience with healing has been less a moment and more a journey of understanding, reflection and struggle.
About three years after my last cancer treatment and my last major surgery, my family drove to Iowa City for a check up. We had been making periodic trips since they had amputated my leg and released me from further chemotherapy treatment. On this particular trip, the doctors had informed me that since it had been almost three years without any reoccurrence of cancer that I no longer needed to have check-ups with them. Their only request was that I get a chest x-ray next year with my yearly physical.
After receiving the good news, we left the pediatric oncology clinic and immediately headed over the pediatric oncology wing of the hospital, the floor where I had received all my chemotherapy treatments, for a visit. We trekked the long halls of the University of Iowa Hospitals and arrived at 3JC West, the place where I had spent at least a week of every month of my sophomore year of high school, and asked the person on duty to page my favorite nurse, Carol. Carol was my primary nurse when I was going through chemotherapy. Carol was strong and intelligent and encouraging throughout my entire treatment schedule. Once, she even got permission from my mother to take me to the movies and out for pizza during one of my stays at the hospital. She was probably one of the reason why I briefly considered being a nurse.
The front desk paged Carol and soon enough, she rounded the corner and greeted us with smiles and hugs. We told her the good news and she caught us up on the goings on in her life and on 3JC West. Before we left, I asked her about Luke and Barbie and Michelle. How were they? What were they doing? She informed me that they had all died. Luke from Cystic Fibrosis AND Barbie from a brain tumor AND Michelle from stomach cancer. I was shocked. As we left the hospital, I could scarcely take it in. All three of them were dead.
When we got back to the car and drove back toward home, my mother informed me that Jessica had also died. Jessica and I had the same cancer. She and I spent one afternoon together one summer. She was at the end of her treatment and planning a remission/recovery party and I, on the other hand, was still going through the treatment. My mother had met her father at work. My mom was a customer service representative at [utility company] and he was a vendor. The receptionist at [utility company] had introduced them to each other because she knew that both their daughters were going through cancer. Jessica’s cancer had spread to her lungs and after a few surgeries they were not able to save her. My mom told me that she had not told me about any of my hospital friend’s or Jessica’s death because they had all died right around the time that I was getting well. I sat in the back seat of the car by myself and cried.
Even now, I still think about what it means to be that one that lived. It is both joyous and confusing to be that person. Of course, I’m glad to be well. Of course, I’m glad to be alive. I’ve been told more than once that God must have ‘something’ for me to do. To some extent, given my current vocation and field of study, I even buy that line of reasoning, but only to some extent. People say a lot of things, and often those things seem cliche and hurtful to those who have lost someone.
If I am alive and God had something for me to do, then does that mean that God had no plan for sweet, funny, Elvis-loving, Barbie – my pizza & ice cream friend? Does that mean that Luke, the little skinny guy who always seemed to be up to something even as he walked the halls pulling his oxygen and IV pole behind him, didn’t make God’s plan list? Does that mean that Michell didn’t have a chance? That God didn’t ordain a thing for this teenager to do but that God did for me? It is sometimes painful to try to answer these questions. If I tried, I fear I will come up with some insensitive platitude. No matter what I’d say, it might leave someone out.
I remember as a sophomore in college, sitting on the floor in front of the television enjoying an episode of the 700 Club. I don’t know if they still do it but at some point Pat Robertson and his co-host begin to pray and give ‘Words of Knowledge ’ like, “Someone is being healed of a neck pain, right now.” Things like that. I was totally in the moment with Pat and the co-host when my roommate entered the room. She said, disdainfully, “Do you really believe in healing?” The tone of her voice totally set me off and I turned to her angrily said, “There was a girl that had the same cancer I did. We received to same treatment. Mine in Iowa City and hers in Des Moines. We both had our legs amputated. Her left and my right. She is dead and I am alive. So, YES, I believe in healing!” Then I turned my back and continued to watch the show. She made the intelligent decision to remain silent.
That was healing, as I understood it then. I’m alive and she’s dead, so I’m healed. It’s not so cut and dry for me anymore. I believe that healing takes place in a lot of ways and that, we, as humans, must be very careful about how we judge what is healing and what is not. Ministers often have to walk a fine line. We are the carriers of God’s word and bearers of Christ’s love, we look for indications of brokenness and hurt in people and try to encourage them to seek wholeness and health in their lives. But we must also avoid offering cheap hope. Although I believe that spontaneous and miraculous healing is possible, I never want to convey that the more common, long journey to wholeness is any less miraculous. We must be careful not to presume that we know, more than God, what an individual needs.
There are instances in which people want to be encouraging and tell others that God can heal them. Yet, the so-called, ‘encourager’ has set the criteria for what healing is. If the healing process doesn’t go the way the ‘encourager’ anticipates then often, the person in need of healing is blamed for not having enough faith. No one should ever be made to feel guilty for not healing on schedule. This very hurtful when it happens. We project our beliefs on other people to their detriment when we might do well to look deeper at where we get our theology and examine it to see if it is sound or helpful.
Although I can’t answer all the questions that I have about healing right now, I can say that I know that God is God. I cannot control God. I cannot put God in a box. God is not my short order cook or my ATM. God is more than any of us can imagine. God is constantly exploding our idols and our limited expectations of God abilities. God shows us that our expectations of the divine are not exhaustive. There is always more.
There is no formula to ascertain whom God will heal and whom God will allow to suffer or even die. Being alive is not an indication of healing but it is an opportunity for healing to occur. I find some comfort in the idea that God will do what God does and that healing is always possible and always miraculous, even if the healing does not occur in the way that we anticipated or on what we asked to have healed. And with that, I welcome God even further into my life to heal me and to lead me to whatever I can do to point others to God’s healing power.
In retrospect, I believe that God was present for me when I was sick and that God’s hand was present as I healed. I also believe that God was present with my friends who died. And if they are in the presence of God where all things are complete and make sense, I’m sure they have more understanding of the process than I do. Nevertheless, I’m open to learn whatever God wants to teach me.
1. They do, in fact, still do the Word of Knowledge thing on the 700 club.
http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/BringItOn/healing-index.aspx . Additionally, the biblical reference often used to explain this phenomenon is 1 Corinthians 12:8.
3. Names have been changed for privacy.