With my retirement date dead ahead, I find myself waxing nostalgic. Until that BIG day when I hang up my robe and stole, my weekly posts will highlight those who have made my race worth running and a few of my God-Moments as well.
Canandaigua, New York
July 1985 – September 1988
Most people only see what a pastor does on Sunday. Hence, the belief that pastors have the best job in the universe, because we only work on Sundays, Christmas and Easter. Such a limited work schedule is not rooted in reality, but I agree that we have the best job in the world. We get paid for loving people! How good is that? Loving people, however, often results in witnessing some very difficult stuff that leaves in its wake unanswerable questions. Caught between love and pain with no magic wand to wave to resolve the latter into the former, when coupled with God’s seeming indifference to fix that which is broken, is extremely frustrating, if not faith-shaking.
As a rookie pastor in Canandaigua, I was frequently deployed to bring comfort to critically ill members of my flock. At first, I tried to bequeath verbal remedies, only to learn that human suffering is not relieved with trite expressions or by raising unrealistic expectations for a desperately desired outcome. Early in the game, I learned that whatever power I had was related to presence. “Being there” was better than inexplicable explanations.
At the end of any bedside visit, a prayer for healing was usually requested, if not required. After all, that is what I was paid to do. My prayers for healing, however, led to a severe case of the “guilts.” How could I pray for healing when the chances of such a miracle were nearly nil? How and why should I build false hopes? How could I sugarcoat an obvious truth: people live and people die. If God waves a magic wand and chooses to heal one and not another, is God really good? Does a good God heal Stevie’s 65 year-old Dad, but chooses to let my Dad expire at 49?
My “guilts” about praying for healing at bedside escalated to the point that I found myself trying to wordsmith my way out of using the word “heal.”
“O God, please make Harry feel better.”
If clarity was demanded, I resorted to muttering, “O God, please h%^# Aunt Shirley.”
When that failed, I beat a hasty retreat.
31 years later, I still make frequent visits to the bedsides of the sick and dying. I do pray for healing…every time. Now you have the right to ask, “PJ, how can you live with such hypocrisy? Don’t you frequently urge us to “say what we mean and mean what we say?” I mean what I pray only because what a wise woman once said as a small group discussed one of Jesus’ healing miracles. I said it was hard to accept that if Jesus was God-come-down-to-earth, why he would heal one and not heal all. I also mentioned my dilemma of praying for improbable healings. Nobody knew as we talked that Susan’s Mom was living through the last days of her life, until Susan spoke up and said with strength and conviction, “My Mom is dying. She may not be cured, but she will be healed!”
Susan righted my ship. Now I pray for healing constantly and not only for the dying, but also for the healthy. Healing is not curing. Curing is what doctors do. Healing is a matter of the soul. It is grasping the God-given peace, shalom, that already exists within us and is in the very air we breathe. Shalom is embedded in our DNA. It is a Divine gift waiting to be opened. When I pray for healing, I am simply praying for an opening of God’s gift, for the soul to recognize the shalom within. The miracle is that God’s peace, shalom, is eternally given. It is ours to find, not ours to lose.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA