This morning’s newspaper carries a curious headline: “HEALING ON HOLD”
The reference is to a community of people who couldn’t heal from the trauma of the destructive hurricane that leveled their school. The insurer held up money to re-build, to heal the community.
People who come to us for help long for healing but often feel it’s “on hold.” Somehow the Insurer has not come through, it seems, for rebuilding lives.
How do pastors and other counselors relate to longing and hurting people?
1. For starters, listen prayerfully.
To interrupt the anguished outpouring of someone sharing a heart-breaking story only adds to their agony and shortens the time for healing. A major part of helping our people find peace is giving them glad permission “to talk it out.” This is part of the therapy.
And that helps the listener know how to pray specifically. Listen to Jesus the Healer: “What do you want me to do for you?” He did not pronounce the healing words until He knew exactly what to pray for.
2. A second step is affirmation.
Positive, not negative words, open the door for God to do his healing work. Before anointing and laying hands on one seeking healing, I always ask, “Are all the channels clear between you and God?” Usually the answer is in the affirmative, but if not, I ask what the impediment is and request God to clear it away. Then follows the caregiver’s believing, never doubting, prayer.
3. Third, ask, What if healing as we envision it does not happen?
God never removed St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (one theory is an eye disease), but He used his disease as a witness to what God can do through suffering. Paul tells us the story in II Corinthians 12:7-9a:
“Because of the extravagance of those revelations,
and so I wouldn’t get the big head, I was given the
gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with
my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me
down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.
No danger then of walking around high and mighty!
At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God
to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he
‘My grace is enough, it’s all you need,
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’”
Unexpected grace! Now that’s a surprise.
One wonders if Paul had his impediment in mind when he wrote, “We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! (Rom. 8:17 The Message). What freedom in knowing and fully accepting suffering! We learn to depend on God through the rugged times, and we develop endurance too! More, God communicates through those of us who suffer and feel inadequate. Part of the reason is that we identify with people wrestling with their problems. The biggest surprise of all: it seems that our inadequacy is the very channel through which God extends His healing hand.
Herein is a law of the spiritual life that applies to caregiver and seeker alike: With self-surrender God graces His people with healing ministries and grace to bear our physical, emotional and spiritual afflictions. This explains why all of us must release ourselves into God’s hand, then help seekers do the same.
4. Fourth, refresh your faith and the faith of the counselee.
God does make people well and whole. I like to remind myself of God’s healings of others in my own ministry: forgiveness and healed hearts, joy in the throes of dealing with dementia, 20 year old allergies completely cured, total healing of leukemia, and many more.
God heals our internal and external wounds, uses our suffering, and “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 RSV). But sometimes our people feel helpless in the exercise of faith; then we must have faith for them like the men who let the lame man down through the roof to the feet of Jesus.
A final note: When those of us who are caregivers think we have little energy left to do one more act of loving kindness or see another hurting person, God will grace us with His own resources. He will make us vehicles of His healing touch. This our faith calls “enablement.” In fact, He never assigns us a task without grace to do it.