Saturday, January 29, 2011
Stay Sick--or--Get Well: Not an Obvious Choice
Once upon a time ( a true story) during the reign of Caesar Augustus there was in Jerusalem a pool that reportedly had mystical powers of healing. The gospel of John, chapter 5, tells us that "a large number of disabled people used to lie around its perimeter--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed." One rendition states that God would cause the waters to stir and the first individual into the pool after each disturbance would be healed. On one occasion Jesus finds this pool and sees a man lying close to the pool. This man has been an invalid for 38 hellish years. Think about the despondency, the resignation generated by being incapacitated for 38 years. Jesus sees this man lying there and having been made aware of his decades-long suffering I would have thought that Christ's heart of compassion would have prompted him to immediately provide a healing touch to this man. I'd have thought that Jesus would restore this man's body to health and turn that which had become bent and crooked into that which could stand tall and erect.
Instead, Jesus asks him a question which, on the surface, comes off as either stupid or very insensitive. Jesus asks the man, "Do you want to get well?" "Do you want to be healed?" That's one of those questions you and I might impulsively answer with, "Duh." Stupid question, don't ya think? If not stupid, then insensitive. This poor man has been incapacitated for 38-and-counting years, incapable of even the smallest of tasks, likely the object of disdain by those with their nose up in the air, and Jesus, you have to ask if he wants to get well? Isn't it obvious? No, not at all. And that's why Jesus asked him the question.
You have to know there are perks in staying sick. There are pay-offs in not getting well. The clinical term is secondary gains. The gains, the pay-offs are not obvious but nonetheless part of the package of perks that come with staying sick. "John" was an alcoholic before he and "Mary" met and married 25 years ago. He has never addressed his alcoholism and Mary and the kids have learned to live with it. He misses work and she calls in for him, coming up with some viable excuse. John's a mean drunk and the kids have learned to tiptoe around Dad and avoid him, not rocking the boat. Mary has taken on another part-time job to make up for the loss of income due to John's absenteeism and to cover the cost of the booze he downs. Jesus asks,"Do you want to get well, John?" You see, if John begins recovery work he will have to take responsibility for himself. He'd have to step up to the plate. He'd have to man-up. He would have to change, rather than his kids adapting their behavior. Yes, John, your alcoholism is killing you and destroying your family, but Jesus, who knows us inside and out, asks a very penetrating question--do you want to get well?
There are pay-offs if you and I remain depressed. Until a couple of years ago "Sally" was thriving and successful, as was her husband "Jim." Both had become distracted by their respective career pursuits and own individual interests, and their connection with each other was now ignored. Jim was too busy to stop and pay attention to her. On those rare occasions when he would 'hop off the treadmill" he was too preoccupied to listen to her and was in his own little world. The loneliness was taking a toll on her and despondency wrapped its tentacles around her spirit. Six months ago she took an overdose while he was away on a business trip. He rushed home and stayed by her bedside at the hospital. It got his attention. Since then, Jim has cut back on his 70 hour work-week and spends more time with Sally. He asks how she's feeling. He listens to her bleak lament. He has even taken her on several overnights since this storm of depression assailed her. Jesus asks, do you want to get well, Sally? Are you sure, Sally? Being depressed, you are receiving more love and caring attention from Jim than you ever got when you were on top of your game.
I think that getting well can be terrifying for some of us. If I get well, then there go all my excuses. I can no longer fall back on what has served to keep me in my crippled comfort zone all this time. If I were to truly seek healing from God, what grand and noble purposes might he have in mind for me? I'm just a lowly self-loathing worm and surely, God. you're not calling me to ascend to new heights of freedom, unparalleled adventure, and heroic engagement in these hard times. I'm afraid to contemplate what I could be if I were to be healed.
Listen to these words of Nelson Mandela.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, talented. . . Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
God, please heal me of my fear of getting well and would you be gracious enough to then heal me of my sickness? I ask for discontentment with my sickness and courage to embrace healing and the life that will accompany it.
Jesus stills asks, do you want to get well?