When I was 19, I escaped a faith healing by the skin of my teeth.
You might think that story is just a fluke. I wish you were right. But I have Cerebral Palsy, use a wheelchair, and was raised in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. I don't mean to brag, but I can spot a Faith Healer faster than you can say "TBN".
Many hands have been laid on me over the years; many prayers have been offered on behalf of my imperfect body; many earnest glances have been cast my way. I have been spiritually waylaid in churches, dorms, popular restaurants, and busy city streets.
To put it another way: many well-meaning, kind folks have spent a lot of their time making things very awkward for me.
Not long ago, my friends and I were leaving our favorite coffeehouse when a trio from a well-known Christian ministry school here in Nashville approached me. It wasn't two minutes into the conversation before the apparent leader of the group asked me if he could pray for my healing. I conceded that, yes, he was welcome to pray for my much-needed spiritual healing.
But that was it.
My polite decline of his offer to heal me left him stunned. It sparked a lengthy dialogue with him on healing, and why I did or did not need it. He disagreed with me on almost every point, and he told me so emphatically. I don't think I have ever made another person that uncomfortable. We parted amicably, but it was clear my perspective had upset him.
Let me be clear about something. I don't have a problem with faith. I am an Orthodox Christian, so faith is vital to my spiritual practice. We call our sacraments (like Communion) "holy mysteries." By definition, a mystery is something that cannot be completely understood. And the book of Hebrews tells us "faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see" (11:1). Without faith, there is no sacramental life. So to have faith in an unseen reality greater than myself is a vital part of my entering into and experiencing the beauty of the Church.
And I don't have a problem with healing. Jesus certainly healed countless people who were sick and suffering during His ministry. He told a man who could not move to rise up and walk (John 5:8); He gave new eyes to a man born blind man (John 9). He even called a dead man from his tomb (John 11). And I believe healing still happens today. Each time I receive Communion, the body and blood of Christ is being offered to me for "the healing of soul and body." The Orthodox Church also has the sacrament of Holy Chrism, a sacred oil with which the priest anoints the faithful, specifically for their healing. And that's not to mention the countless miraculous healings credited to the saints [through their faith, their prayers, and even their relics] over the past 2,000 years.
I believe in faith. I believe in healing. But I have no desire to be healed of, or delivered from, my physical differences.
On this matter, I do not presume to speak for anyone else with a disability other than myself. I recognize there are many people who can, should, and will be delivered from their physical sufferings through their faith and Divine Grace. And I rejoice in that.
The problem I have with Parking Lot Healer is that his talk, and the work of his ministry hinged on several assumptions, all of which I found very narrow and unsettling.
Parking Lot Healer assumed I wanted to be healed of my physical disability, simply because he saw I had one. No one has ever asked me if I wanted to be healed before offering [or attempting] to do so. But Jesus Himself asked the man at the pool, "Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6). As God, He recognized and respected the free will given to His Creation. I would appreciate the same consideration from others, before I answer them with a polite "No, thank you."
Parking Lot Healer assumed I could more fully experience faith in God [and the power of God] by attaining physical healing. To believe this is to discount the role of suffering in our salvation. The Apostle Paul pleaded with God to take away what he called a "thorn in his flesh", and God did not. Was Paul lacking in faith? Did Paul lead some weird Christian half-life? Of course not. Full of wisdom, his outcry is an example of great faith to everyone who suffers: "When I am weak, then I am strong" (See 2 Cor 12:7-10) Paul recognized that to be a Christian is to endure hardship as a means of drawing strength from God. And Christ Himself chose to suffer for the will of God, and for the salvation of the world.
Parking Lot Healer assumed a purely negative relationship between physical and spiritual "wholeness". Assuming I want to be healed implies that there is something "wrong" or "undesirable" about my body that should be fixed. And making physical healing the exclusive focus of such ministry makes the healing of mind, soul, and spirit seem like an afterthought. Even worse, it seems to equate who I am on the inside with how I appear on the outside. God forbid if we all treated each other this way!
To be healed of my disability is to change my physical state of being-which has been as it is since I was born- and this would mean completely redefining life as I know it.
To not have a disability is to forego a large part of my identity. And I would hate to lose that on someone else's whim.
We all have crosses to bear. We all have thorns in our flesh. Some you can see, some you can't. For a Christian, complete healing and deliverance from suffering could lead to self-reliance, and a diminished sense of need for the Grace of God. Struggle allows us to draw strength from God and from others, and to develop empathy and patience in a way we could not if we were without challenges.
So, consider this my Public Service Announcement. There is a healing I need. Forgiveness, grace, and peace are necessary to redeem me from the sin, guilt and doubt that mar my heart. I need hope that can only come from true fellowship with God and others. I need the healing that can be found in the embrace of a friend, a mint condition record, or the laughter of a child.
The rest of it, I can do without.
Beth Hopkins is the author of the blog site In Case of Fire, Use Stairs, where she writes on a variety of topics including disability, Orthodox Christianity, music, books, and pop culture. She has a Master's in Nonprofit Organizations, and works for a nationally recognized advocacy organization for people with disabilities. She lives with her houseplants and phonograph in Nashville, TN.
*Special thanks to my friends, Dr David J Dunn and Jonni Greth, for their guidance and support throughout the writing of this piece.
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