Last week’s column about healing brought a lot of comments and questions. For example:
“Why heal some but not others? I have never understood how little children can be so sick and are never healed, it hardly seems fair. (I know, life isn’t fair) And there are others that skate through life destroying as they go and never have bad things happen to them, it all seems so wrong!” — Karen
Karen, I’ve struggled with this question too. The following story about a patient named Anne never specifically answers the question of why God heals some and not others but through Anne I discovered that God is involved even when healing by our definition never takes place.
Anne was brought to the hospital with an unknown infection in her knees and hips so severe; she had not been able to get out of bed for nearly a year. At the young age of forty-two, she was not only facing severe infection and extensive surgery but also a mountain of personal problems including drug abuse, family squabbles and a stack of unpaid bills. Anne was in a lot of trouble.
Routine blood tests in preparation for surgery revealed an added horror for our forty-two-year old sufferer. Anne had to now be told that she was HIV positive and would likely develop full-blown symptoms of AIDS.
She was already suffering from so much; now HIV/AIDS! The doctor wisely called for a chaplain to accompany her, which in this case was me. I certainly wanted to help Anne but how? What could I possibly say or do to ease her suffering?
The doctor quickly and efficiently explained the meaning of HIV/AIDS and the ramifications. Then she left. For nearly an hour Anne alternately talked and cried. She had been horribly abused much of her life and sought escape in abusive relationships and drugs. She hoped a local gang would satisfy her longing for friendship and love. By the time she realized her mistake, it was too late. The years of beatings, brutal sexual abuse and drugs took their toll.
At one point, Anne was filled with rage: at her family who abused her, her so-called friends who used her and even God for seemingly abandoning her. Soon she would face excruciating surgery followed by a long, painful recovery only to then face the reality of HIV/AIDS.
There wasn’t much I could say. I could only listen, try to understand and cry. But at some point, I felt led to ask: “Anne, would you like to receive Holy Communion?”
She looked at me for the longest time. Then with the slightest trace of a smile in the midst of all those tears, Anne nodded and said, “Yes, please.”
Later, that night, amidst the busyness and noise of a large metropolitan hospital a student chaplain and a deeply troubled woman, together discovered the words of comfort only God can give:
“Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. Forgive us we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord… In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ given for you. Amen.”
Several days later, following her knee and hip surgery, I was summoned to Anne’s room for a different purpose. She grasped my hand, looked at me with a smile and said: “I sensed the presence of God in the room that night during communion and for the first time in my life I felt truly loved. Thank you!”
I don’t know why God physically heals some and not others. Why some people receive more pain than any one person can possibly bear while others live virtually trouble-free. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. The right question might be: Where is God in the midst of our troubles? Do we have a future to look forward too beyond the suffering we experience now?
“I have a surprise for you!” Anne, continued. She got out of the hospital bed and stood up triumphantly. Anne then asked me to escort her on the first real walk she had taken in over a year. Together we walked the length of the hospital corridor and back.
This time it was my turn to cry.