Recently I went to the local clinic for my annual physical. The nurse came in and asked the typical list of questions in an effort to ascertain if I had any new concerns—if anything was going awry or in need of further attention. Then the doctor came in with a similar interrogation that incorporated questions that were a little more personal. As I sat on the brittle examination table paper, he doubled down on his last question, “So nothing out of the ordinary to report?”
I was taken back to times in my life when I downplayed something potentially serious, simply because I didn’t want to face it—as if the act of confronting something difficult could hurt more than the thing itself. I’m not kidding. I lived with a malfunctioning gallbladder for eight months which, by the time I had it removed, had fused itself to my liver and developed gangrene!
Okay. Enough with the unrequested personal information. I share it to get at this simple point: I’m learning again that receiving healing often requires owning our vulnerabilities.
In my case, I had shrugged off the concern of my wife, the advice of my mother (a 40-year veteran registered nurse), and the extreme pain. I missed out on being healed sooner for lack of honesty.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in Matthew 8: “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy” (Matthew 8:1-3, NIV).
Prayer, if authentic, requires honesty.
And honesty before God requires
being honest with myself.
Here we see a man well acquainted with suffering. The locus was not only his physical skin condition but also its social implication, which was a forced separation from others. It could be said that he suffered in and from isolation. Then he breaks out of that position by coming to the feet of the One who was himself “a man of suffering, acquainted with grief.” His kneeling vulnerability is coupled with boldness and faith. He is willing to rebel against the boundaries generated by his affliction and then, glory be, finds an open ear and eyes willing to see him.
That’s the part that strikes me. How precious are Jesus’s words: “I am willing.” Imagine the liberation the man felt in hearing in those words that preceded the clearing of his skin. And Jesus touches the man before he heals him.
If I may share personally again—it’s been hard for me to pray in this season. This is troubling for a professional religious person! I think it’s because prayer, if authentic, requires honesty. And honesty before God requires being honest with myself. And honesty with myself means looking at the pain born of the disorienting season we’ve experienced.
If you were a doctor and I were your patient, this would be my confession: It’s not that I don’t want to talk to God. It’s that I’m not sure I can survive staring squarely at the pain. So rather than face it, I continue running through life adjacent to it, thinking I’m not allowing it to touch me but also not getting through it to healing.
How much of our lives are about avoiding pain and denying our vulnerability and, as a result, unconsciously blocking ourselves from or postponing healing?
This remains an unresolved moment for me and that’s okay. Perhaps you have unresolved elements of your life too. Perhaps they preceded last year, were generated there, or perhaps they were brought on by the stresses and strains you have experienced. I’d like to invite us to face those elements with honesty. Begin by sharing them with yourself. Write them down or speak them aloud. And then, in a moment of faith, share them openly with Jesus who will surely see and hear you through eyes and ears of compassion.