I have prayed for healing.
I have prayed for symptoms to disappear because that is what healing meant to me, but deep within I have suspected that my prayers were somehow too narrow. Too limited. How, then, should I pray? Is true healing more than the absence of some symptom?
I prayed that my boy would be healed. I prayed that food would no longer squeeze the breath from his lungs. God heard my prayer. When his throat began to swell, and I had forgotten the epi-pen, a stranger’s hand reached out with the medicine he needed.
What does it feel like to be healed? It feels like being held.
I have felt the breath squeezed from my own lungs. For one long, hard month I have despaired of ever again feeling strong. And I have prayed for healing.
I prayed for breath when what I needed was hope.
This is not a less-than prayer. I do not redefine healing in order to make it seem more possible. Lungs are made strong, allergies do disappear, the cords of cancer and disease are broken every day, but God can do so much more than that.
His healing is not limited to our bodies. His healing is not given only to those whom doctors will pronounce well.
To be healed by God is to know that death is a lie. That there is nothing to fear.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” Psalm 18:16
To be held in arms of love. That is what it feels like to be healed.
On Friday, our weekly pizza-and-a-movie night had to be postponed (and, yes, for those of you wondering, I make two: one deliciously normal for four of us, one dairy-free, wheat-free and “pizza” in name only for the middle child).
This middle child, our accident-prone five-year-old, had to be taken to the emergency room after a fall onto the cement floor of our garage. He came home late that same night happy to show off his new plastic dinosaur and the half-dozen staples on the back of his head.
I still remember, years ago, the preschool teacher who told me that if any child was going to fall into a puddle or trip on the curb it would be my son. Always. This has never stopped being true.
Twenty-four hours later, three of us kneel to receive communion. We prepare to remember death and taste resurrected life while the boy so recently knitted back together stands behind us. The boy who knows what death tastes like better than any of us. He does not yet receive the elements, but he is always given a short blessing, a gentle hand on his head.
Our servers are an elderly couple unfamiliar to me. They must be Sunday-morning regulars moonlighting at our Saturday-evening service. The husband places his hand on my son’s head and leans in close. He prays and prays until it seems that the attention of a whole room has condensed and fixed itself on this prayer for one small boy. I don’t remember a communion blessing that ever continued so long.
It is long enough for this memory: I am seven-months pregnant with my miracle baby, my-sewn-in-tears-and-reaped-in-joy son. I am filled up with a baby and with fear. Having waited so long for him, I am sure that this gift cannot be given with no strings attached. There must be some price, in pain, that I must pay. Until someone touches my own head and prays for me, and I see … well, I hardly know what I see, but it is as if my unborn son and his maker are alone together. Then I understand that I have only a peripheral role in the relationship between them, and I see that my love is small and weak compared with the love God has for the child he’s made.
Kneeling at the communion rail, I can see that the young couple next to me are also watching my son and the gray-haired man. I can see tears in her eyes and feel them in my own, and I know that this, this, is what it means to live in a beloved community. We have been so well-loved by God that our hearts break for how he loves everyone around us. We are loved, and we are loving, and our hands touching broken heads and fearful hearts are the hands of Jesus, always.
And the heavy burden of love that I carry for my son is shared. It is not, has never been, mine alone. Of course, my husband shares it, the firstborn (who runs to her room weeping as the car leaves for the emergency room) shares it, but Jesus also shares it and his beautiful church shares it.
We are a beloved community.
I fear that too many of us approach prayer with a mental picture of ourselves making a laborious attempt to come before God. Or, maybe we have a picture of ourselves trying and mostly failing to get God’s attention. Either way, the effort is all ours. The distance between heaven and earth appears too big to bridge, and our burdens seem trivial. They are dwarfed by God’s vastness, and they are lost in the cacophony of prayers being made across the planet at any given moment.
I’ve learned that prayer is not about little people waving their puny arms in God’s face. Nor is prayer like my own small voice pushing aside all others in order to make its way into God’s ear.
Rather, prayer is like a river. It is always flowing, and we are not its source. Its source is the Christ “who was raised to life,” for we know that He “is at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
To pray is to step into the rushing water.
Even the words we say are not our own. We pray, like Christ, “Abba, Father.” Instead of distance there is the intimacy of family.
And when we have no words? We groan, but even in this we are not alone. Our groan joins that of creation (and who can doubt that creation groans?). Even better, our groans are echoed in God’s own heart, for the Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). Our pain, our uncertainty transformed by God himself into powerful, purposeful prayer.
Quieting myself, I can just hear the sound of the river. It is the sound of One singing over us, and His voice “is like the sound of rushing waters” (Zephaniah 3:17, Revelation 1:15).
How do we find this river? How do we hear its voice? And, most importantly, how do we jump in?
I’m not sure that I’ve figured it out. All I know with certainty is that the river is there and sometimes it finds its way to me.
This week it found many of us at a monthly women’s worship service focused on the arts. Women sang, women danced, women spoke, and women painted. Yes, painted.
Some of us took Sharpie markers and wrote our prayers on one of several large, blank canvases. Of course, I wrote the name of my boy. I wrote the word Fear. I wrote the word Food. And then the painters began to pray and create, and our words were caught up in swirls of color.
By the end of the service, the canvas I had chosen (or the canvas chosen for me?) was covered in a wild rush of water. The artist’s brush had spelled out across it: “The Healing River Flows.”
How could I ever think that my prayer for healing is mine alone? Or even that I am its source?
The source of my prayer is Christ. The same one who gave me these words when I first prayed for a child: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). Back then, I read those words and knew that my prayer had been answered.
Now I know that “answered” is not really the best word-picture for what sometimes happens when we pray. Instead, it is less like being spoken to and more like being swept away by water that was always already pushing in the direction we longed to go.
We don’t need to fight to get God’s attention. We do need to remember that our Savior with the voice like water has never stopped praying over us.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb . . .” (Revelation 22:1).
We’ve kept an extra place at our kitchen table for years, and lately I’ve been trying to figure out the whys and hows of the uninvited guest who frequently sits there.
I never notice him right away. Usually, we’re a few minutes into our meal when I first realize that he’s joined us. I see my son’s eyes grow a little bigger and a little rounder. Next, he says something like, “Is this my special pizza?” Or, maybe, “I think this hot dog is making my throat hurt.”
The name of our guest? Fear.
Sometimes, he’s just a shadow flitting around at the edges of our conversation. “Don’t worry,” I say. “You probably scratched your throat with that tortilla chip. You’re fine.”
Other times, he monopolizes the meal, entirely. My heart starts racing. Unsure of what’s happening, I mentally thumb through each of the possibilities. Did baby brother touch his food? Did I doublecheck that label? The package looked a little different. Did they change the formula?
I whisper to my husband, “Get the Benadryl. Let’s get it ready, just in case.”
My son sits staring into space, and I can tell that he’s making an effort to swallow. I know that he’s afraid and trying to figure out what’s happening in his throat. I keep up a conversation hoping that if I look unafraid my boy will be able to relax.
Then I notice that the hand holding my fork is shaking.
The thing about this particular fear is that it always takes me to the same place. Utter dependence. I pray without using any words. And I remember: this boy is loved. He is, and always will be, safe in his Father’s arms. All will be well. No matter what.
Only then do I start to breathe easily again.
I walk away from the table, stooped a little with fear, limping like Jacob.
The fear, like a hip out of joint, is not an entirely bad thing. I can’t feel it without remembering that I too wrestled with God. When failed fertility treatments and another month of bad news said, “Despair,” God gave me faith to grab the hem of His son’s robe, to pray and pray without letting go and to be healed. This boy, this good gift, was on the way.
Will I ever send my son to school without worrying that a stray spill on the cafeteria table might cause death to flare up in his throat?
We pray for healing. We pray for miracles.
Lately, the miracle I’ve been dreaming of looks a little different than the one I used to imagine. It isn’t a dream that my son grows out of his allergy (something that would be miraculous given the severity of his reactions). It isn’t a dream of supernatural, spontaneous healing, although I believe deeply that such things do happen. I may be a rational academic by training, but, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I know that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The miracle looks more like this: a team of scientists and doctors at Mt. Sinai discovering that some children, fed a steady diet of baked milk proteins in carefully calibrated amounts, can increase their tolerance. They may never sit and drink a glass of milk, but they can eat a slice of cheese pizza at a class party without risk of anaphylaxis.
Suddenly, a healing touch straight from heaven seems . . . a little boring. A little limited. What seems truly miraculous is the divine at work in a doctor’s lab. The divine bringing hope to more than just one child. Miracles baked into muffins.