“You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” Job 13:4 NIV
Over my 20 years of chronic illness I have known a great many “worthless physicians” I can tell you. I’ve been ignored, disbelieved or told to go away. I’ve been told “I think it’s M.E. but I don’t believe in it” and after a dreadfully difficult journey to London, a neurologist at a top hospital said, “I don’t know what they sent you to me for. I can refer you to a psychiatrist if you like.” Even the most sympathetic doctors that I have seen have been able to do nothing more than shrug their shoulders. “Well I don’t have a magic wand,” one GP told me over and over again every time I went to him to ask for help. After my worst relapse so far, when I was in terrible pain and every movement was desperately hard and exhausting, a doctor, clearly exasperated and to my shock, not believing me, told me and my worried parents, “Well if you need a wheelchair, you should look in the Yellow Pages.”
And everyone who has this illness, or yet to be properly classified/researched/so-called “invisible” illnesses and diseases which don’t conveniently present with easily analysed bloodwork or purple spots, has numerous similar stories. It is exasperating, heart-breaking, soul-destroying. Because we go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, and we expect some help. That’s not so strange, is it?
Likewise, Job was visited by his supposedly wise, spiritually mature friends, and all they did was give him the religious equivalent of my doctors. “You must have done something terrible, best repent,” is their general message. And I’m sorry to say, this is the same message that passes as spiritual wisdom in many churches today. Seen it, been told it, been prayed for about it. “Hidden sin” it’s sometimes called, and the hurtful assumption behind it is that you’ve brought the illness upon yourself by doing something sinful. That, in other words, it is, on some conveniently inscrutable level, your own fault.
Do we not think that the sick and disabled are suffering enough without being told to repent on their dungheaps by people who are clearly (because fit and healthy) so much better, cleaner, more right with God? This is holier than thou taken to painful extremes. And the main reason it happens is pure ignorance. The church generally shies away from a theology of suffering, especially the Protestant church. We do not teach on sickness, disability, illness, healing or suffering anywhere near enough in my view. Nor do we understand the value of perseverance and faithfulness in prayer.
Consequently, people latch on to some very odd ideas and are buying into the belief that because God is good and wants us all well (I agree) then he must want us well now whilst we are being prayed for, and so if nothing happens, it cannot be God’s fault or will, it cannot be the person praying’s fault, it must be yours. On top of your physical or mental or emotional suffering (usually illness and disability contain all three of course, since we are holistic beings) we have lots of lovely guilt piled on top too.
But there are some good doctors, some godly doctors, some wise preachers and healers, who know that things can take time, that patience, compassion, listening, forbearance, endurance, persevering prayer and empathy are tools of the kingdom. I had one GP be unfailingly kind, though he admitted he did not know how to help me. That honesty and belief was very precious, and my current GP is also sympathetic, though apart from blood tests every few years, till more research is done, there is not really any help available. But as Job discovered, it is loving encounter which is more healing than theology and half-baked theories.
A Carmelite Priory I occasionally stay at when well enough has a special Day of Celebration sharing in the Gifts of People with Disabilities today, with creative workshops, sensory prayer and Mass. And in August they will also have a Pilgrimage of the Sick with the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes. That seems like a pretty healthy (pun intended) balance of things. We celebrate the things that suffering brings whilst at the same time acknowledging that prayer for healing is a good thing. It is not that we do not expect answers, or indeed miracles, but that we live out a theology (an orthopraxy if you like) of trust and acceptance. Those of us who await healing (whether in this life or the next) are limbic people, and we have a lot to give and a lot to share and say, if anyone finds themselves able to listen.
Photo from Pixabay, candles at Lourdes