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?




13 comments:

Ms. Code said...

Interesting way of looking at it. I never really thought of it that way before, but this applies to a lot of situations.
Good post!

Debra said...

Steve, I see it all the time, this need in people to wallow in victimhood. This post is outstanding, and I just hope you’re not preaching to the choir here! I hope those who choose to remain helpless and hopeless are reading this, and I hope that your words (and those of Christ quoted here) ring true and penetrate their darkness. It’s apparent that folks don’t want to be healed when they continue harping on themselves, always lamenting their woes instead of accepting help from the Source of all healing. Thank you for sharing this truth.

Widow_Lady302 said...

I see it too, as you can imagine. The road of the victim is a tempting one, but I don't like being catered to. Love this post. LOVE IT.

Steve said...

Ms. Code, I appreciate your flexibility in looking.

Debra and Widow_Lady, I share your frustration with those who cry "victim" and choose to continue to live as one. However, I think there's more going on than that. These payoffs I referred to serve as very powerful rewards and can serve to deceive a person, lulling them to sleep as they remain in their dead-end plight. Understanding the payoffs for a person ultimately helps me to be more understanding of the person, and keeps me from trying to shake or knock sense into them.

Tim said...

Steve,
Bravo!!! I teach REBT at work and I start with the simple phrase that human behavior is really rather simple: We do what we do because we get some sort of payoff for it. In that group, I teach Lynne Forest's Victim Triangle Dynamic (Karpmann's). When a client completes the group, on the certificate I write, You will be who you want to be and you will do what you want to do. Many people do not want to get better. I understand it though.
Tim

Mary said...

When I was in nursing, I would see patients continue to return to the hospital over and over again. The secondary gains had taken over their life and they saw no other way of living. Actually, the secondary gains had provided them a coat of protection from actually 'having' a life. Some were able to break free while others did not. So sad.

Steve said...

Tim and Mary, you each possess wisdom accrued from "being in the trenches." Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Steve I think your blog was right on. SC mom

Steve said...

SC Mom, I'm glad it resonated with you. Thanks for reading!

Bongo said...

Laughing and shaking head as I risk saying this....I know what this post is saying but I know where my thoughts go... they focus on that wife...that woman..how I feel sad for her.. that she had to go that far to get what she needed/want... that she couldn't see a better way....maybe she did really want to get well.. but she never knew how to do that.. I get her..of course I do LOL.......

Steve said...

Bongo, sometimes the look in the mirror produces both laughter and a shaking of the head. How true.
I would disagree with you about this character I created. You state that you feel sad for her in that "she had to go that far. . . " I don't think she HAD to; I think she CHOSE to. We don't HAVE to; we CHOOSE to.

(And, Tim, if you comment on this comment I will HAVE to strangle you if you reference REBT one more time.) :>)

Tim said...

Now Steve, how "rational" is that thinking? hee hee

Steve said...

Tim, it's the most rational thought I've had in a very long time, and it continues to crystallize into perfect clarity. :>0