Why Am I Not Yet Healed?

This question has often plagued me in the two plus years that I have struggled with chronic ankle pain. I hear stories of miraculous healings from people I know and trust, read about them in the Gospels, and hear time and again messages about the connection between faith and healing.

Just to be up front – I am not going to answer my own question in this post. If I knew the answer, I would also be on the cusp of solving the problem of evil – a problem which centuries of deep probing has left just as tangled as it began. I am simply going to offer a few thoughts based on my own experiences.

Firstly, I have come understand that I am asking the wrong question. When I draw near to God for the sole purpose of getting healed of an ailment, I miss out on the truest and best gift He offers – Himself. I am, as C.S. Lewis so poignantly described, seeking solace in mud pies when there are fireworks going off over my head.

During a period when I kept bringing this painful question about my healing to God, a line from the Gospel of Matthew began glowing with new significance for me, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33). I don’t know when or how God will finally take away this pain. I trust He will sometime, even if not in this world, but, as for me, I am called to seek God’s face and His kingdom above all else.

Second, God, like Aslan, is not a tame lion. I can’t predict that since my friend over here was healed after three years of persistent prayer, the same thing will happen to me. I love the way that Jesus never repeats his methods of healing people in the Gospels. One minute, he is making a spit and dirt salve for a blind man. The next minute, he is healing the centurion’s servant from afar. The next minute, who knows what?

God’s ways are a mystery to me, and totally, exhilaratingly unpredictable. But I can trust that He knows my story, that He is writing my story with me, and that He will meet me in the midst of my story in a way that is deeply personal and completely Himself.

Finally, I believe that good things come out of the tension between brokenness and wholeness, between longing for and receiving healing, between the already and the not yet. One of my mentors would gently remind me that, in the midst of being tried by fire and stretched to my limit, God was forging in my heart the precious gems that could only be formed under intense pressure.

Parker Palmer expressed the same truth another way. He writes that we shy away from holding together tension and paradox because of an underlying fear that our hearts may break from holding the tension any longer. We see the reality of our broken bodies, lives, and societies, and we see the hope of healing, wholeness, redemption. But we tremble at the thought of standing in the tragic gap between the two. It is easier to respond with fight (making your ideals come true by force) or flight (escaping to a fantasy world where the reality can’t disturb you).

Sometimes it just seems to hurt too much to hold together both the hope of healing and the present pain. It makes our hearts break. But this does not have to be a bad thing. Palmer writes, “As I stand in the tragic gap between reality and possibility, this small, tight fist of a thing called my heart can break open into a greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.”[1]

I love this. I have often felt in the midst of the emotional pain that comes from questioning the meaning of my physical pain that I was falling into the gaps of life. I walked such a thin line between hope and despair, trust and disgust, patience and desperation. Honestly, I don’t like being there. I would feel much more comfortable with some solid answers about why this is happening to me. But I don’t have any. I just have the gap. As I grope forward, I take a small, brave step in believing that God is with me in the gap, and that He is enlarging my soul to live in more spacious places.

[1] Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (2004, Jossey-Bass, p. 178).


Broken Wholeness

For some people, wholeness means being complete and put together. For others, wholeness equals perfection. Parker Palmer, a respected educator and life guide, speaks these words which challenge my idea of wholeness:  “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”[1]

Paradoxical, isn’t it? When I picture wholeness, I often think of it as a state of having nothing wrong with you, no life messes to deal with, your internal landscape swept clean. But Palmer’s definition allows for messes. In fact, he embraces them as a space for new growth. How can wholeness and brokenness exist together, even complement each other, in the space of one person?

We can understand this paradox when we read further on in Palmer’s writings. Palmer understands wholeness as living a life of integrity. This isn’t just living up to ethical standards – it’s much deeper than that. It means embracing the truth of your deepest self, being fully yourself in a world where it’s much easier and safer to wear a mask and play a role. But living this kind of divided life slowly saps away our passion for living and cheats the world of the gift of our selves.

So what does this have to do with brokenness? As I reflect on this question personally, I realize that brokenness is a part of who I am. In the past couple of years, I have come up time and again against the sense of being incomplete, of missing out on some important part of life. In particular, this is related to some chronic ankle pain which has kept me from fully engaging in some of my most beloved activities – dancing, taking long strolls with my husband, hiking in the woods. The fact that I am a broken, fragile, very vulnerable person/body has been unbearably intense at times.

By God’s grace, the weight of that realization has lightened and I have also made some progress toward physical and emotional healing. But this painful period of my life has left some scars – literally and figuratively. I can’t really go back to the person I was before. And while in some ways that person seemed more whole (i.e. less broken) than the person I am now, when I let the truth of Parker Palmer’s words sink in, I begin to see that, in reality, the person I was then wasn’t any more whole than the person I am now. And wholeness won’t come from wishing myself back to an earlier, simpler time.

Wholeness will emerge as I embrace my brokenness and my scars and let the truth of who I am – scars and all – speak out. I trust that offering up my broken wholeness to the world will be more life-giving and substantial than striving for a “perfect” wholeness that doesn’t exist.

Let me end with a word from Brother Roger of Taizé: “When trials arise within you or misunderstandings arrive from without, never forget that in the same wound where the pangs of anxiety are seething, creative forces are also being born. And a way opens up that leads from doubt toward trusting, from dryness to a creation.”[2]

[1] A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (2004, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 5).

[2] The Sources of Taizé (2000, GIA Publications).