Friday, April 22, 2016

Looking at the World Through Lyme-Colored Glasses: Why Faith Doesn't Always Equal Healing

I’ve always had a hard time with Disney movies. Sure, they’re fun to watch. They have beautiful music, whimsical animals, are set in amazing places, and they always end with two people living happily ever after.

Some viewers are bothered by the talking animals, but not me. Others are bothered by the strange tendency for characters to randomly burst into song, but I find it funny. So what’s the problem?

It’s that closing scene that always gets me. The part where everything ends perfectly. All of the problems the characters faced suddenly melt away as if they never happened. And the future? It’s all rainbows and sunshine.

And, while that makes a lot of people happy, that bit bugs me. Because it’s a lie, isn’t it?

I don’t like being lied to.
My development of Lyme disease began as a slow process. It started out with tiny problems. My jaw hurt. My hands hurt.

Then, one summer, the problems when downhill very fast. I suddenly found myself as a writer unable to use her hands without great pain. A surfer who can no longer surf and an exercise junkie who can no longer exercise. Pain became normal and smiles became the exact opposite. I saw my world turn from full-color to gray and, having never experienced Lyme disease before, I didn’t know how to paint brightness back into my life.

I prayed a lot. I read the Bible. I assumed that God was going to fix it soon. Because he’s God and God fixes things, right? He heals. That’s what he does. I’d read and heard about him doing it for other people, so he’d do it for me.

But then months...and years...went by and he didn’t. And I couldn’t understand. Hadn’t I done everything right? I prayed. I read the Bible. I believed and I had faith. So where was my healing?

I know that, at this point, a lot of people start to think that maybe they just don’t have enough faith. Maybe, if they believe a bit harder, God will heal them.

I never once thought this. I’ve always had faith. It never crossed my mind that God couldn’t fix Lyme.

And that made it worse. Because if God had the ability to heal me, then what the hell was he waiting for?

I didn’t know. But I did know one thing. On bad days, that one thing played over and over in my head:

You lied. You lied to me. You said you would help me and you didn’t. You lied. Why?

I was convinced that he had lied. Where did I get an idea like that? It’s not like the Bible ever says anything about healing people who ask for it and have faith.

Oh. Wait. It does:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. James 5:14-15

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Psalm 103:2-3

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20-21

Being an intelligent human being and a gifted writer, I was able to pose an eloquent question to all of these verses:

What the hell?

What the HELL?!


Because, really, what else was I supposed to think? I didn’t know. The only thing I knew was that I had questions, and none of them had good answers.

What kind of a God says things like that and then just lets people hurt? What kind of a God lies?

Does he think it’s funny? Maybe this is all a joke to him? Maybe he’s just not paying attention any more. Maybe he got bored. Maybe….

The maybes were endless. I cycled through a lot of them before I came to a one that made any kind of sense.

Maybe, my entire life, I’ve been reading those verses the wrong way.

Maybe, all this time, it wasn’t God that was doing the lying.

I realized then that I was looking at the world the way I wanted to see it.

I wanted to believe in a God who physically heals hurting people any time they pray for help, so I did. It was easy to believe, because it fit in with the, “God is good, God is a loving God” mantra that I had steeped myself in.

I never once stopped to consider that maybe God’s idea of good is different from my own. My thoughts were simple on the subject: “Pain bad. God good. God take pain away.”

I guess I’d been viewing God a bit like the Room of Requirement. I needed something, and he’d magically make that something appear because that’s what he does. Clearly, that idea has caused me a lot of pain. I can’t really blame anyone save myself.

When I go back and read the Bible now without trying to put words in God’s mouth, I realize that those verses never promised what I thought they did.

They promised healing, yes.

"Healing." Inigo Montoya knows what's up.
But they didn’t promise that it would happen immediately. They didn’t even specify whether it was physical healing or spiritual. There’s a large chance that this promised healing comes in the shape of Heaven and eternal salvation.

And that’s hard for me to accept. Yes, I need salvation and Heaven sounds like a pretty nice place. But my brain cannot fully comprehend these things. All it can comprehend is that my body hurts badly and that my life isn’t what I thought it was going to be. So how am I supposed to hold out through all of this by finding hope in something I can’t understand?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this: God did not lie to me. And that’s one of the most comforting thoughts I’ve had since this entire thing started.

I don’t know if God has plans for physically healing me soon. I don’t even know if he has plans to heal me at all. It’s possible that I’ll wake up tomorrow fully healed. It’s also possible that I will wake up with Lyme disease every day for the rest of my life. Who knows? Not me.

And, while that might seem like a depressing thought, it’s not.  Because now I can stop trying to force my idea of how healing should work onto God, who I would assume knows more about it than me. If he heals me of Lyme? Hallelujah! If he doesn’t? Well, that sucks. A lot.

However, I know that even if I'm not healed physically, this soul of mine that Lyme has wreaked havoc with can still be fixed. I may not have had a choice when it comes to getting (or keeping) Lyme disease. That might not heal. But the anger and the bitterness that appeared with it can.

Rather than spending my life waiting for God to fulfill a promise he never made, I think it's best for me to spend my life working towards the promise that he did make. Because this healing I've been waiting for? I've been checking for it in the wrong place.

So whether Lyme is taken from me or remains to stay, I will be healed. Maybe not it the way I expect. Just in the way I need.

What about you? Have you ever struggled with the connection between faith and healing? Please don't hesitate to dump out your thoughts into the comment box below.

Related articles:
Looking at the World Through Lyme-Colored Glasses: Learning to Live With Chronic Pain
Looking at the World Through Lyme-Colored Glasses: What Normal Feels Like

Did you come here looking for a writing tips post? Sorry not to have one for you this week, but allow me to point you towards somebody who does: 10 Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration, a great post by the ever-awesome S.M. Metzler.

36 comments:

  1. I'm sorry you have Lyme. I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I know about chronic pain... and how quickly anger and bitterness come along with it. I was a runner, an athlete, a soldier before the disease started in 2007; now I don't remember what a day without struggling over the simple things is like. I use to run long distance; now I walk with a cane. But I've come to the same place as you, God is still good. And he can heal physically, but the spiritual is so much more important. Physical healing is great... but our bodies would still be heading toward death. Spiritual healing lasts forever. It's a better healing. C. S. Lewis had some good things to say about all of this in his book The Problem of Pain; I'd also recommend Joni Eareckson Tada's books. Her story is inspiring.

    There is a conversation from Lord of the Rings that plays through my head most days: “I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    I didn't choose a body that doesn't work properly, and there are many times I wish it away... but that isn't up to me. All that's up to me is the decision of what to do with what's been given to me. Fall into bitter angry despair, or treat every daily struggle as part of an epic adventure. Every stairwell I encounter can be a thorn in my side, another thing I should be able to do but can't; or I can look upon it as my Mt. Everest, and when I reach the top celebrate. Many people dream of climbing a mountain, to feel the wonder and accomplishment at the top. I have the opportunity to do that everyday, and I choose to see that as a blessing.

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    1. Wow. Thank you for the great comment. I smiled when I read about you conquering the climb to the top of the stairs. I do the same thing: turn bad situations into some kind of quest or battle that I'm determined to win. =) It seems silly, but it's important, isn't it? To be able to find a way to deal with problems both mentally and physically.

      I love that Gandalf quote! It's a very important idea to me and has helped a lot, so it's neat that you get strength from it, too. I'm also a fan of Lewis' The Problem of Pain. I've read it twice and am going back a third time this summer. I'll have to check out Joni Eareckson Tada's writing. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Anyway, all that to say: I loved reading your comment. Keep on being amazing. Every time I see a staircase I'll think of you and send up a prayer.

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    2. Thank you. I'm so glad you shared this post; and I'll be saying prayers for you as well.

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  2. Very good insight Hannah! Know what your going through and some healing is just spiritual. Christy M

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  3. Love you sister and I will continue to pray for you. TB

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    1. You are so great, TB! Thank you for the continued prayers. It means a lot.

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  4. "Rather than spending my life waiting for God to fulfill a promise he never made, I think it's best for me to spend my life working towards the promise that he did make"
    These are very wise words from a young woman your age, I really wish more older people can learn from your experience, I know about chronic pain too and I hope God keep you safe and well and healed :)

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    1. That is a really sweet thing for you to say, Haneen. Thank you! I'll be praying for you and your chronic pain, as well.

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  5. As I've gone through my diagnoses, I've had to constantly unlearn the structure of stories. If this were a story, the arc would look a certain way. We'd find the answer, resolve our conflicts, and be fine in the end. I crave that formula--the idea that if I just learned a lesson (whatever God is trying to teach me), I could be okay. The diagnoses would stop. The pain would stop. The deterioration would stop.

    But like you said, it doesn't work like that.

    "Love like a hurricane" is one of my favorite song lyrics, because hurricanes are terrible. They are destructive and powerful and unsafe. God's idea of safety (like His version of healing) often doesn't align with what we imagine. Part of the difficulty of faith is believing that He is good, even if we don't see that goodness tangibly (or the tangible goodness does not outweigh the suffering). Part of it is finding ways to see goodness, despite all of the flashy pain in life that distracts us.

    This is just me rambling. But I'm glad you've found a measure of resolution for now, and wish you the best.

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    1. I love what you said about the song "Love Like a Hurricane." It made me think of this quote about Aslan: "'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." Nothing about following God is safe. It's scary and hard, but it can be beautiful, too, in the way that a strong wave or a hurricane is beautiful.
      Thank you for the great comment, Alyssa. I didn't think it was rambling at all. =)

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  6. WOW! Hannah, Hannah, Hannah! I can just hug you for writing this post! So good!! Thanks for writing it.

    I've once had a lady tell me that basically if God's not healing me then I don't have enough faith and then she proceeded to invite me to her prayer group, because she said people have walked in there with cancer and walked out with no cancer. It was a very awkward moment and I will no longer be going back to my writer's group (for other reasons too)

    Also had to laugh at your use of language! I think sometimes the only thing keeping me together is my absurd sense of humor, because that is at least one thing lyme is not affecting, in fact I think I've become a comical genius. :)

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    1. Aw. *hugs* I'm so glad it helped you!

      It's hard to get comments and suggestions like that from people, often because they are genuinely trying to help, though in the wrong way. I'm glad you didn't take that comment to heart.

      I laughed when you mentioned becoming a comical genius. If Lyme has done anything, it's given me an extremely strong sense of humor. Funny that it did the same for you. =)

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  7. This made me smile, laugh and cry. You are so positive Hannah! Never change. BE WIERD. (What's normal anyway?)

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    1. Thank you so much! I try. Well, I try as far as positivity goes. The weird part comes naturally. =D

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  8. Thank you for this. For daring to question and for daring to believe despite it all. And most especially for sharing your heart.

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    1. I'm so happy you appreciated the post. Thank you for the encouraging words!

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  9. Hannah, this post is so awesome, and so true.
    Healing doesn't always happen physically. This is something I've constantly had to learn, with my mom's chronic health issues (she got cancer when I was five, and it came back three times, plus her constant battles with other issues), and my brother's health as well (he has autism and has undergone many brain surgeries, never fully being "better").
    And sometimes, I want to ask God, "Why oh WHY can you not just make my family NORMAL and HEALTHY??? Are You not in control??? Do You not want me to have joy?" Because it really does hurt so many times.
    But for so many of us, in our times of burning pain, our souls really do heal.
    We can learn to trust God through the pain, that His promises of His presence will NEVER be revoked, that His plan is always best, and that even though we can never see the whole picture, He sees it.
    You are so right-on.
    God doesn't always heal us in the ways we think we want, but in the ways He knows are best.

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    1. I love...'that HIS promises of HIS presence will NEVER be revoked'. Curling up in HIS arms, throwing ourselves in HIS lap, crying our hurts out on HIS shoulders are all part of HIS plans for us. NEEDING HIM above all else! Wanting to be overwhelmed by HIS presence and love. Desiring HIS 'whatever' for us because we KNOW that is still ultimately what is BEST for us. Life is a journey that HE is guiding us through for HIS glory, and I like being LOVED by HIM!
      I, too, know that pain can take our eyes off of HIM. That physical limitations get old real quick. That brethren can say some of the most stupidest things to us when we are the most vulnerable. It's obvious...this world is NOT perfect, nor the people inhabiting it! But HE is! And I know HE heals! HE is faithful! HIS creation is made in HIS image! HE loves each one of us! I chose to rest in HIM, because of who HE is, no matter what the immediate future holds for me. I'm like Peter...who else, where else can I go to get the answers?!! This was a good article with very thought provoking comments. I really enjoyed reading. Vaya con Dios!

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    2. Wow. Thanks for sharing your story, Amanda. It's so hard to go through questioning like that, but, at the end, I think it's worth it. It helps us understand things we'd never have seen before. It sounds like you have a good grasp on things. Go you! I'll be praying for you and your family.

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  10. Thank you for this. My mother has chronic fatigue and is praying for healing, but she has a lot of ups and downs. I think I will share this with her.

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    1. That's so hard. I hope this post is able to help her out a bit. I'll be praying for her! And you, of course. It's hard to watch a parent suffer.

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  11. Gotta love your sense of humor. Asking "what the hell" about the Bible!
    As an atheist, I've never quite understood how people continue to have faith through such trying times, but your take on it is really inspired.
    I have to wonder, maybe God is just a really good writer. You can't give your characters everything they want just because they're good people. You have to make them struggle for it and, if they prove themselves a worthy and noble protagonist, then at the end (of their life, of this chapter of their life), you can reward them. Maybe not with the ending they want, but with the ending they need.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I'm glad you found it inspiring....And funny. =)

      I have often wondered that myself. For me, I always come to this conclusion: I don't continue to have faith in spite of my pain. I have faith because of my pain. Without a belief that this Lyme has a purpose, that living in this world wasn't some kind of random happenstance, I wouldn't know how to live. I'd ask, "What for?" and not have an answer and it would crush me. But, because I believe, I see purpose in my pain. I've been able to help so many people through this. I know that can't be an accident. So I hang on because this life was gifted to me, personally, for a very specific reason, and I want to find that reason and run with it as far as I possibly can.

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  12. Lovely post, Hannah, and very moving. I'm moved to tears by your words. Sending hugs & keeping you in my thoughts, always

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    1. Thank you so much, Ramona. *hugs back* I'm always slightly in awe of words when I learn that they're able to move people like that.

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  13. This is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read <3 You are so strong and so brave. And I cannot imagine what you're going through but I want to say thank you for this amazing perspective.

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    1. Wow. That means a lot, Stefanie. I smile to hear that you found the post beautiful. I always work to use words to make something beautiful, so it's good to know that I was able to.

      And I don't know that I'm particularly strong or brave. Just too stubborn to give up. =)

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  14. As I read this post, it was like reading my own thoughts. I struggled with all these questions a few years ago when my brother died. He was terribly injured in a plane crash. I spent the last days of his life doing nothing but praying. I too had somehow got it into my head that if you just pray hard enough you will get whatever you want. But my prayers went unanswered, or so it seemed, and my beloved brother, my best friend, was taken from this world. I felt cheated, lied to. I prayed, I believed in God's ability to save my brother. What more did He want? It was only very recently that I found a satisfying answer. A very wise person finally explained to me that although no prayer goes unanswered, that doesn't mean we'll get what we want. It means that we'll get what we need. Why I needed to lose my brother, I have no idea. But if I believed in God's ability to grant my wishes, how can I not believe in his ability to know exactly what I really need? That's not to say that it doesn't hurt anymore. It does, every day. But now that I'm no longer angry at God, I can turn to Him for comfort. I think this is the most important message you conveyed in this post. When you blame God for your pain, you push away your greatest source of comfort. Even if He won't heal your physical problems, He can make you happy even in the midst of all that if you'll only let Him.

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    1. This is such a heartrending, gorgeous post, Tamara. Thank you for sharing. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother. My prayers go out to you and your family. But I'm glad to hear the conclusion you came to. "When you blame God for your pain, you push away your greatest source of comfort." This is so correct. I wish my instincts weren't so backwards. When bad things happen, I often push away from the very thing that can help me most: God. I'm slowly learning to stop bolting off in the wrong direction when I come up against something scary. It sounds like you are, too. I'll be praying for both of our successes.

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  15. I'm sorry for not reading this sooner, Hannah. I got caught up and let work distract me, but I'm glad I got to this.

    My heart goes out to you. I could never understand what it's like to live with constant physical pain. But, between you and me, I've dealt a little with with depression, though I was very good at hiding it.

    It's often hard being a part of the church when you have a physical or mental illness. I think Christians like the Disney version of things because it sells. Hey, you got problems? Jesus will take um right away! And that's a lie. A terrible lie. And every time I hear someone at church say to "just have faith and God will heal you/your friend/your family. I feel a little bit angry, but mostly sad that we buy into that. Because life sucks man. You're not protected from everything. Jesus is not a fairy godmother. And sometimes we've got to experience the pain and live through it. But I'm a firm believer that, even though pain may not be what God wants for us, he will never waste it. I think there is power in the pain. Because maybe one day someone will show up that will benefit from what you've gone through. And maybe you'll be able to help them through trials of their own.

    If there is one thing I've learned from good fiction it's that the hero's journey is never easy. There's a lot of suffering and a lot of tragedy along the way. But we have a marvelous ending promised to us. And you're a hero, Hannah, so remember that.

    Okay, I'm sorry for being sappy, but I really believe that. :)

    And if I could say one more thing, I think it's okay to be angry. It's okay to say what the actually HELL? It's okay to cry and scream if you have to. I think God appreciates you being guanine with him.

    I want you to know I'm always here if you need me. E-mail, DM, even phone me if you want. People like you and me do have a tendency to give of ourselves but not ask for anything in return. So I want you to know you have a friend to talk to if you need it.

    You are an awesome person. Keep doing what you're doing. Great post. :)

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  16. Oh, and one more thing. I haven't stopped praying for your family. How is everything going with them?

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    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Katherine! I really appreciate it. Lyme has also given me depression, so I feel for you. It's so hard when people who are Christian are made to feel that they aren't allowed to have questions. Questions are good. God gave us brains so that we could ask them. And I think if we get frustrated and need to ask "What the Hell?" he's okay with that. It's awesome that you've come to that conclusion, too.

      Thank you so much for praying for my family! I teared up when I saw that you are still praying for us. My Mom's symptoms have gotten a lot better. My younger brother's are also starting to regress. It's a huge blessing. My Dad is still in just as much pain though, which is hard. If you could send up an extra little prayer for him, that would be amazing.

      Also, if I'm a hero, then so are you. Simply by reaching out and leaving me such a sweet, inspiring comment. Thank you so, so much for your encouragement and offers of help. I'll make sure to get in touch with you whenever I need some extra prayer-power or a place to vent. Please feel free to get in touch with me, too, if that nasty depression ever comes at you. Let's go take on the world together! =)

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    2. You're too awesome. Thank God for the Google search that led me to your blog. :)

      I'm glad to hear they're dong better! But sorry for your dad. I will continue to pray for all of them, and send up a prayer especially for his healing.

      Please, do. It's a relief to know that I've have a friend who's dealt with depression too. It can often make me feel very isolated. I'll be sure to send you a message if it ever comes knocking at my door again.

      I agree, let's make a pact. Well get through this stuff together and help each other out. That's what friends are for, right? :)

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  17. So much truth here. Thank you for being vulnerable and writing about this, because this is a message that SO many people need to hear.

    God's view of "good" isn't always the same as ours. In fact, it often isn't. He's still in control, but he sees the bigger picture that we could never fathom.

    I also hate sappy, happy endings (in any kind of movie or book), because they're not truthful or helpful. Seeing characters that push through difficulties, that endure in the midst of hardship, that still have hope in the darkness? THAT is more beautiful to me, because it's real. It's inspiring. Those kinds of stories tell us that we can find the strength we need, even when all seems lost. Because real life is not a series of happy endings... but real life is still worth it. :) It's still beautiful, despite the pain. Stories that communicate THAT truth are the ones I love. Disney endings just create terrible, too-perfect fantasies that make us more discontent, rather than giving us real, practical hope.

    I feel like I'm kind of rambling (I'm sort of half-awake right now), but hopefully my comment makes sense. xD

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    1. Totally not rambling. Your comment made complete sense to me. =) Beauty through pain: that's a concept I've been thinking about a lot lately. I know that Lyme has given me more strength of character than I ever could have had otherwise. And I know that I've been able to see a lot of gorgeous things because of it, even if it does mean I have to wade through a lot of yuck.

      I like stories that reflect truths like that, real tales that don't say that darkness has to be absent in order to have joy. That's one of the reasons I wrote this post: People need real stories.

      I'm glad you appreciated it. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment!

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