As you can probably tell from my blog posts, I have been trying my best to maintain a sense of perspective in the midst of everything that is going on in my life, and believe that I have done an admirable job so far. In general, I have been able to discern glimpses of the greater good that God has accomplished, as well as glimmers of what is to come. If I do have disappointment about the present or fear about the future, I have done a pretty good job at compartmentalizing it, and not letting it affect my family, nor my understanding of who I am in God.
But sometimes, that is easier said than done.
I was changing Jonathan’s diaper a few weeks ago, and it was a messy one – parents out there know what I’m talking about, and you non-parents don’t need/want to know. And for some reason, I just wasn’t as prepared as I usually am. The wipes were in one room, and I had to stop and sprint mid-change to get them. The diaper creme was in the same room, but I had forgotten to get that when I went for the wipes, so had to stop in mid-change yet again to retrieve them.
All this time, I was urgently telling Jonathan, “Don’t move, buddy, don’t move!!” He regarded me with amusement.
I was nearly done with the whole process, when Jonathan peed in the diaper, and on my pant leg as well. But of course…the new diapers were in that other room, and I had to go back in there a third time to get a fresh diaper for him. I was feeling pretty frustrated with myself by that point, and as I strapped a clean diaper onto my patient son, I was surprised when I angrily berated myself:
“You can’t do a goddamn thing right, can you?”
Hmm. Where did that come from?
I don’t think it actually had anything to do with my abilities as a parent. I think I am a pretty capable father, and do that better than anything else than I do…although I don’t think that is actually saying much. But if I had to guess as to the cause of that outburst, I would say that it came from my situation at church, and the feelings of disappointment and failure that I have been quietly dealing with over the past few weeks. If there is any part of my life where I doubt that I can do anything right, it is as a minister, and a church planter. Despite my very best efforts to make sense of the situation and seal off any negativity, clearly it has been seeping through and affecting me, like water racing through the compartments of a sinking ship.
I think we often are not aware of how easily the broken parts of our lives bleed into the others. We fancy ourselves masters of compartmentalization, able to corral any pain and regret to the appropriate part of our psyche, as if it will never touch the rest of our lives. Or else we mistake forgetfulness for forgiveness, believing that that as long as we don’t actively grieve over something, our wounds must have mended and our pain been dealt with. Or we place our faith in the old adage, “Success is the best revenge”, that nothing will bring the healing and closure we want more than a successful and enviable life. And with this, all we need is a good job, a good spouse, and a good house to make all things right.
We would like to believe these things, but they are not true, at least not for very long. All it takes is a little disappointment, a little setback, or a really dirty diaper to poke holes in the veils that separate the different aspects of our lives, to re-open a wound that we long thought closed, or to make us realize that the new job, the new relationship, the new city did not help us move on – it simply gave us a new context that we could totally screw up. No, the healing that we truly need is not simply external, to simply feel better, to have a new and better job, or to find a more attractive and smarter mate. We need healing that is more than skin deep – we need inner healing.
It reminds me of the story of the bleeding woman in the gospels.
Jesus is on an important errand to heal a dying little girl. But on the way, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, with a hungry and instinctive sense of faith, reaches out and clutches Jesus’ robe, knowing that His power is such that only a touch could heal. And lo and behold, she is right! She is completely healed of her condition, and knows it deep within herself. She is healed! But then, I’m sure to her utter horror, Jesus stops everyone and calls out, “Who touched me?”
Why does he do that? He is in a rush to save a dying girl, just keep moving! And why does it matter who touched him – the woman has been healed already of her condition, right? There was no need to do any further ministry to her. But this is not true. Her healing was not complete.
You see, the woman’s condition most likely was gynecological, that her uterus was bleeding in some irregular way, and this meant according to Jewish law, she was unclean and would have to separate herself from others, physically and spiritually. Additionally, we know from Mark’s account that this woman had spent everything she had to try to cure this condition, which meant by this time she is indigent. She is a bleeding beggar woman. It also details how she suffered at the hands of the doctors who tried to treat her – we should remember that this is the first century, and “doctors” were not doctors as we know them today. They were partially herbalists, partially spiritualists, and completely un-knowledgeable, and probably prescribed some strange and very painful remedies for this woman.
This is the woman’s full state – she doesn’t just have a medical condition. She has been socially isolated. She’s poor and has been humiliated. She has been suffering for twelve years, physically and emotionally. It is not just her body which bleeds, but her very soul. And that is why Jesus stops and identifies this woman, because her healing wasn’t complete yet. Yes, by the midpoint of the story, she no longer was physically bleeding, a tremendous blessing in itself. But Christ is not satisfied with this, and goes on to speak these words:
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Now, not only has the bleeding stopped, but she is no longer isolated and alone and unloved – she is a daughter. Her raw and hungry faith is praised by the Lord of Lords. He speaks words of deep peace, freedom and comfort over her. And it is only after this that Jesus is content to move on, because only now is her healing truly complete.
What a wonderful realization, that the healing and restoration that God desires for us is not simply physical and superficial, but deep and internal, and eternal. He does not settle for band-aids for us, but wants resurrection and new life. He does not want us to simply forget the past, but instead, to be forgiven of it, and to forgive for it. He stops, waits, and persists so that we might have this true and complete healing. But like the bleeding woman, it is we who rush off too quickly, who assume that everything is okay as long as our wounds don’t weep openly, or our external circumstances awesome enough to take the edge off our pain, like some kind of life-narcotic. But I think Christ calls us to stop and wait, to allow him a few more moments to speak not just words of physical mending, but mending of the soul and the inner trauma that is invisible to the naked eye.
As soon as I finished with Jonathan’s diaper, I let him loose to terrorize his sisters and throw markers on the floor, and told Carol about my outburst. We knew that something was not right, and so immediately booked some time to attend a prayer and healing retreat, as we realized that what we needed more than anything else was not a job and health insurance, but peace and inner healing, for both of us. And that is where we will be for the next few days. And we hope to hear nothing more than the words that Jesus spoke that day, to a person bleeding both inside and out:
“Son, Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
We hope the same for all of you as well, that you might wait just a little while so that Christ’s power and love might heal you completely, deeply, and fully.