Getting to the Source

August 27, 2013

When I was very sick, I wanted to know why. I also wanted to know how to get well. Quickly. A few years ago, I had a form of cancer along with pancreatitis. So I asked these questions to whatever doctor I could talk to about my condition, trying to get to the bottom of it. I, fortunately, found a doctor who could not only help answer my questions, but also give me ways to live a healthier life, and while that never fully cured my health concerns, I can say that with his advice and support, I made significant lifestyle changes that have added quality to my life, halted some disease in its tracks, and helped me to live as healthy as possible even with the after effects of that traumatic medical emergency.

It sounds so easy when I re-read that paragraph above. But it wasn’t. Not only did I struggle with the anxiety of the illness, but I also worried that I might never be healthy again, or that they might uncover something more in the healing process. Those struggles are hard enough, but when you add in the reality that changing the way you live, think, exercise and eat, it gets REALLY HARD. We seem to be hard-wired to do some things some ways and sometimes, those hard-wired things are very destructive. Habits are hard to break and carving new disciplines in life is challenging work.

But I wanted to be healthy. Really, really healthy. And that kept me going, with lots of prayers and lots of tears.  I look back on that time now and see just how unhealthy my body, my heart, and my thoughts were. But that perspective has only come after getting through the difficulties.

Of course, it helps that I am “blessed” with an insatiable need to know things and a deeply implanted stubbornness. As much as that is a curse, God has used the desire to know things as a blessing to keep me moving toward growth and health.

So often, when it comes to our lives, we tend to focus on the symptoms, not the disease. We see ourselves failing but we can’t quite put a finger on what the reason is. We see our hearts stagnant in their spiritual growth, but we don’t see the source of that stagnation. We may make guesses but we have a harder time pinpointing what’s really going on. And I’ve seen it many times, even in myself: we just keep going with things as they are. Oh, sure- we may make cosmetic changes, but we never get to the heart of the matter. Even whole congregations or groups of people can do this. They will paint the doors an inviting red, or clean up the bushes outside, or get new carpet and chairs, but never quite touch on the real issues.

And it makes sense why. Because it’s painful work. Deeply painful. We struggle with facing ourselves for who they have become. Humans naturally cater to our strengths and victories over our weaknesses and failings. We are too accustomed to shame, so we avoid the truth.

We shy away from the deeper questions: “Am I healthy?” “Am I growing?” “The deadness in me- what is the root of that? Lust, greed, rage, resentment, jealousy?”

And yet,  the Bible teaches us-  by only going to those dark places, can we truly see the light as it is. When we are in the darkest of dark, the light is all that much stronger. But when we refuse to enter those dark places, we refuse to experience the healing grace of God at it’s fullest.

In my tradition, the Evangelical Covenant Church, our forebearers in this denomination were called Mission Friends. These Friends met together for times of community and reading the Scripture, and they often asked each other this important question, “Are you yet walking with Jesus?”

Some of us might bristle at such a question. But it really is a great question! Because it points to this deepness, this need to truly enter into the scary places in us to ask, “Am I walking with Jesus in THIS place too? What about that concern? What about that issue? What about that struggle? Am I yet walking with him?”

As terrifying as it was to listen to my doctor tell of how serious my illness was (in fact, I was just visiting with her the other day and even now, years later, she told me how incredibly lucky I was), it was necessary. I needed to ask not simply the questions of how to treat symptoms and how to take the cancer diagnosis seriously, but I also needed to examine the ways that my lifestyle and habits had contributed to my body’s ability to fight disease (or the lack thereof). There were moments I wanted to close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears and not listen, not hear. Because with hearing comes responsibility. And yet I had to. For my own sake.

In the same way, as scary as it is to stand before the Holy Spirit and say, “Tell me where I’m sick,” it is absolutely necessary. Only then can they expect true healing in our lives. And as radical as that step may be, we can trust the Spirit. Why? Because when we bare our souls before him, we in the presence of Love. True, strong, pure, unadulterated Love. Love that doesn’t poke and prod our souls out of a critical spirit that tells us we are just never good enough. Instead, that Love wants our health and healing. And so, like the doctor who treated my cancer, or the one treated my pancreatitis, or the one who treated my thyroid disease (which resulted from cancer), God lovingly and responsively works in our sick place, in our dark places, in our weak places to bring about health. But he will not do so uninvited.

In the end, difficult though it may be, inviting the Spirit to play doctor in our lives, in the churches we love, in our families and relationships, in our workplaces will yield a deeper light in our hearts and a deeper understanding of a loving Physician who dares to make us well.

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