When I first read this weekend’s Gospel, my initial reaction was, “Oh, another one of those ‘miracle/healing’ stories.” I can find new meaning every time I hear the Sermon on the Mount, the Bread of Life Discourse, or any given parable, but the stories of healing have never really resonated with me. Maybe it’s because so many people today are in desperate need of healing, both divine and medical, yet they continue to suffer. Yes, I realize it’s the oldest argument in the book against faith, but if I’m being honest about it, these stories push my resentment button. They seem to confirm that the real physical Jesus was confined to a specific place and time that I will never experience first-hand, that the best any of us can hope for is the healing that comes when we pass from this sometimes painful and unpleasant existence into the next (as long as we pass some test about being a “believer.”)
I took my initial reactions to God, who gently reminded me that Jesus is the divine physician. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” was my less than prayerful response to the still, small voice of my higher power. Only after my doctor appointment this week was it made clear to me how I was as deaf and dumb as the man Jesus healed in today’s passage from Mark.
Have you ever known people who stubbornly refuse to go to the doctor for an annual checkup? Maybe they believe doctors are only for sick people. Maybe they don’t like being poked and prodded, or have trust issues. Maybe they are afraid of finding out they have cancer. Maybe they know they’re a little overweight or smoke or drink too much, and they’re avoiding the inevitable guilt trip. Maybe it’s a fear of authority figures. Maybe they’ve been misdiagnosed in the past. Maybe they don’t want to spend the money, or don’t have the money to spend. Or maybe they are just lazy.
We all know the type. I’m not exactly sure when or how it happened, but I became one of them, using nearly every one of those excuses. This summer, grace took over and my fear of not going to the doctor became greater than the excuses. I made the appointment with someone new, I went, and it was uneventful except for being able to see how different the experience was from those dreaded annual checkups of the past.
When I was in my late teens and twenties, the most important thing was that nothing shatter the illusion that I was a “good girl,” so there were whole areas of my health that I didn’t discuss with my doctors. Going to the doctor for an annual checkup was about passing the test, and as long as I gave the right answers, I could be sure they wouldn’t ask me anything I didn’t want to answer. Why else would they call it an “exam?”
If they asked me if I always wore my seat belt, I lied. If they asked me if I was sexualyl active, I’d ask them to define “sexually active.” If they asked about my eating habits, I’d credit my tiny physique on good genes and high metabolism. It never occurred to me that lying or omitting the whole truth might not be the best way to maintain my health.
So it occurred to me after my fantastically open, honest and long-overdue exam that I have been treating “the divine Physician” in exactly the same way I had up until now been treating medical doctors – with suspicion, distrust, and an inaccurate assessment of my own self-sufficiency with regard to diagnosis and treatment.
This time I went to the doctor with a different attitude. The appointment was no longer about passing a test and getting a stamp of approval that expires in twelve months; it was about forming a relationship with someone I actually want to trust, because I don’t know it all, no matter how well I think I know my body or how many articles I read on WebMD. A relationship based on trust requires only two things of me – that I show up, and that I be honest. Being honest means I have to let go of the shame and fear that used to follow me into the exam room (and everywhere else, too) like a shadow. This time, I admitted that sometimes I don’t wear my seat belt. That I gave birth my third child on purpose (to which she surprisingly responded with congratulations and affirmation that Richmond’s home birth midwife is the best obstetrician in Virginia!). That I’m opposed to IUDs for religious reasons, so drop the subject. And that, like anyone who has been sexually active, I’m anxious about my potential exposure to STDs.
I didn’t hold back, and as a result, I laid the first brick in the foundation of trust. I was relieved to have my questions answered and my fears allayed. Now when I get sick, I have somewhere to go besides “doc-in-the-box” and my own medicine cabinet. I have someone to call when I feel afraid, instead of someone I’m afraid to call.
Today’s Old Testament selection from Isaiah encourages me to do the same for my spiritual health. “Be strong, fear not! He comes to save you . . .” The divine Physician can heal me only if I am willing to stop the charade of “passing the test” with all my good behaviors and answers. He already knows about my most shameful secrets anyway, just like my old doctors knew that I wasn’t a virgin anymore. Doctors, both medical and divine, can’t heal us if we are too ashamed of our mistakes and fears to show up and be honest about our symptoms. Only if I do my part can Jesus do His, even today, in this life, 2000 years after He walked the earth. My faith tells me that He is just as real and just as alive as He ever was. The divine physician is on call 24-7, with no waiting room and no co-payments.
Whether or not I like the prescription is another story. Read next weekend’s Gospel, and let’s make a follow-up appointment for next Sunday.