I spend time with folks in lots of different situations of crisis and illness. After a period of time, most folks experience a new normal and move forward with living. But some folks, especially individuals who struggle for long-term illness or permanent loss, find themselves pushed to explore their faith at the deepest level. Sometimes it means rebuilding faith from the foundation.
Significant illness and change that confronts us with a deep question: “Do you want to be well or not?” There is a struggle with becoming attached to your illness, or your sense of life before your loss, so that finding a new way forward may seem impossible. The work and effort of finding recovery and healing, may include a whole different way of life. However, all illnesses or loss, no matter how minor or significant, offers you the opportunity to take a serious look at your true self.
It was startling when I first learned that when we find ourselves in a hospital bed, it is a significant moment to reflect on what matters the most in life. I have observed that every physical crisis of health includes a spiritual challenge of faith. The class, which was taught in a hospital setting over 12-weeks of full-time work, revealed this to be true for a person having a simple overnight procedure to an organ transplant. Death or the loss of a job or relationship also causes us to question what we believe about faith and our identity.
It’s important to note, not everyone is willing to do the reflection work it takes to move through these big moments of challenge without the help of a trusted friend. Not everyone is open to share what may be bothering them spiritually. Most folks are basically private in moments of struggle. There is an art in learning how to be a trusted friend with a listening ear. Those who are the best at it, get that way by learning to reach out to their own friends in such moments.
Rueben Job (A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God: Upper Room, 2003) reminds me that “I am a participant in my road to health.” God is always capable of doing miraculous things, but the example of Jesus in the Gospels is that God does not bring healing unless we desire to be whole. We are partners with God. Moments of great struggle are also opportunities to discover again that we are partners with God in our own recovery.
John 5:1-16 tells an amazing story of a man struggling from 38 years of illness. Jesus crosses his path and offers him the opportunity to be completely whole and free of his long-term illness. He had become accustomed to his state of illness and brokenness. He was part of a community of others who gathered daily in hopes of being well, while being accustomed to a state of brokenness. To be suddenly made well would have been a huge disruption to this status quo. Jesus asked him: “Do you really want to get well?” He had all sorts of excuses. They were part of his justification for his 38 years of brokenness. To which Jesus declares: “Get Up! Pick up you mate and walk!” And he did.
I think it is safe to assume his physical healing was the easy part. Now he was faced with finding a whole new life in a whole new identity based on no longer being broken. His faith would be just as challenged as it was when he was so broken. However, he was also invited to be part of the community of the followers of Jesus. It was something he could not have done while still holding onto his status of brokenness. It is the same with us. We, too, can get bogged down in our identity as broken people in need of God’s grace and lose sight of following him.
It relieves me to know that I am helpless on my own, but invincible with God. The path to healing includes listening to discern God’s leading and having the will to act and move as God directs. That path includes responding when God declares the moment of healing – even when I am more invested in staying accustomed to brokenness or the life I had before it became disrupted by loss or change.
Take time today to take stock in what God is doing in your life. Consider how God is calling you to new growth and new avenues of faith that demands your trust.
Dr. Neil Routh is pastor at Grace Moravian Church.