What does healing look like?

by Kristin on April 23, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives

I went to the Festival of Faith & Writing to grow my mind, but in many unexpected ways it also broke my heart—broke it then massaged it and put it together again.

In the midst of conversations about book writing and agent-searching, the creative process and the faith process, I had some really heavy conversations with friends, old and new.

At one dinner, a friend told me about how she still grieves for her son every day, years after he died at the age of only 17.

At another dinner I caught up with a college friend, hearing details about the decade she spent fighting and recovering from the leukemia she was diagnosed with at 29, when her own daughter was only one.

And then there were three significant—all completely unexpected—encounters with friends who I felt had judged and abandoned me after my divorce in 2003. We hadn’t spoken since, but we were suddenly given the chance to begin sorting through the pieces, and move toward healing.

I was emotionally spent.

Fact: There’s no shortage of brokenness or healing in our lives

One of my favorite sessions at the conference was with Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak. In her talk, “Beyond Cure: Narratives of Healing,” Sara said “God is always in the business of making a whole—of pulling together what has been torn apart.” But “healing is not the same as cure,” she added.

I couldn’t help but think of the hope I had for a cure when I moved to Illinois in 2001. I knew exactly what it would look like: My marriage would be magically restored. Certainly that’s what God was up to. Instead, I stumbled through a long and painful healing process. It was not at all what I expected, and yet, it left me more whole than I could have imagined.

Sara touched on that slippery aspect of healing, too. Healing, she said, often doesn’t look anything like we think it will or should. We assume, for instance, that healing for an alcoholic is all about overcoming the addiction. While it certainly might involve that process, Sara said, we have to realize that many alcoholics stop drinking but are not healed. I wonder if maybe we even limit the power of healing when we jump to such concrete, obvious conclusions and expectations (btw, this thought didn’t come from my notes, so I’m not sure it came from Sara). We think of the most obvious solution, and that’s what we pray for.

Letting go of concrete expectations

Just the other day, I spent some time listening to a friend who is in the process of grieving her life on a variety of levels. When her tumbled words of grief slowed, and she had let it all out, I shared some of Sara’s thoughts on healing. Then I asked “What do you think a ‘cure’ would look like in your life? Imagine it, then let go of it—there’s a good chance it’s not what you really need.”

Next, I asked my friend what she thought healing might look like. “Now try to come up with a dozen alternative routes to healing. Imagine all of the ways you might be healed, take hope in them, then offer them all up. Try to be open to any one of those possibilities—or to something completely different.”

What do you think? Does this approach to healing make sense, when you hold it up against your own life? Is it freeing, or frightening, or both?

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  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    This is such a thought-provoking piece, Kristin. You raise honest and important questions, and encourage us all to open up to all the possibilities. Too often my request for healing consists of merely telling the Almighty what to do! I trust your time in Michigan will continue to work it’s way into you like yeast through the dough.

  • Michael Van Houten

    Wow…I never really *got* that difference between “cure” and “healing” before. I wonder if Jesus was tapping into this when he asked the man at the pool of Bethesda, “do you want to be healed?” Because, as you say, healing might not look or feel like anything we think it will. It might end up actually causing a whole lot of upheaval in our lives.

  • Trina

    How timely as we journey through the pain in my daughters life, hence ours too. We have been seeking the concrete solutions, being the pragmatic types we are. Frustrations have surfaceed on how that approach is not working, just yesterday we were discussing this very thing (hubs and I) – reading your thoughts today has helped me to look at our situation from another angle. Both freeing and frightening at this moment.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed Cyzewski

    Great post. I think that prayer as listening, and not just petitioning, can be particularly helpful here. We open ourselves up to God and ask him what he wants to do. The results are often surprising.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ray, thanks so much for the encouragement. As I wrote the post, I started to think about the process of brainstorming, as it relates to possibilities for healing. Brainstorming, after all, is a way to push past the obvious, the cliche and the small-mindedness of the first idea or two that pop into your mind, to something better. For some reason, when it comes to God working in my mind, I’m so quick to settle with that first small thought.

    Michael, yeah, I never really *got* that concept, either. It was one of those major light bulb moments for me. Glad I could share it with others! (You make a great point, too, about Jesus’ question: Do you want to be healed?)

    Trina, as I’ve been considering this idea of healing, I’ve been thinking about you and many other friends who are struggling with less-than-perfect life circumstances right now. I’m glad you’re at least trying to be open and look at it all from different angles, even if that’s potentially scary. Peace to you.

    Ed, yes, “prayer as listening.” I forget that part of it, far too often. What you are saying here reminds me so much of how my mom always reminds me to look at God’s work in our lives: Offer it all up then wait and see what he will do. Thanks for driving that home one more time.

  • http://www.jpmdasein.com Jeff

    new reader, first time commenter

    I think you and Sara are spot on. I found my mind drifting to the work of Thomas Moore as I reflected on your post and waited for our horizon to find the sun.

    “Even though care of the soul is not about changing, fixing, adjusting, and making better, still we have to find a way to live with our disturbing feelings.” (97)

    “We are simply wounded by participating in human life, by being children of Adam and Eve. To think that the proper or natural state is to be without wounds is an illusion.” (166)
    from, Care of the Soul

    It is still to early for me to articulate something myself here, but your thoughts this morning and the excuse to pull Moore off of the shelf, or actually out of the stack already on the desk, is much appreciated.

  • http://www.larkinsplace.com Larkinsmom

    I love this post K! Interesting conversations have come from it in my world. I have always said that the person I was died when my first daughter was born. She healed me when I didn’t even know I was sick and even more profound is that my healing comes from a child that most wouldn’t want and some would destroy in utero. God gave me a gift of flesh and bone whose challenges give me strength, humility, and teach me Grace every day.

  • http://www.carolvanderwoude.authorweblog.com Carol

    Hello Kristin,
    I read your thought provoking post and after mulling it over have a comment.
    My painful life circumstance was the loss of my son to leukemia–after a battle that I was convinced God was helping us win. My son, who loved life, died. I was fortunate to have a faithful friend at my side– a woman who had lost her son in a freak accident. She helped me see that people don’t know what to say. Sometimes they back away. As she walked through our experience with us, she commented that it was helping her to heal.
    Perhaps as Christians we don’t have to have “the cure” for our friends. We just need to walk by their side. We don’t have to say “something”– we can just listen.
    Thank-you for your post. You have stimulated my thoughts.

  • http://www.CreativeGuideToLife.com Susan

    I like that. That healing doesn’t look like what we think it will. Emotional healing is usually a painful process yielding beautiful results. Much like physical pain. Often it’s shedding layers of crusty, preconceived notions that leaves us scarred, until we realize the scar is more like a cure. Maybe the scar/cure is realizing we’re going in a new direction in life, leaving behind destructive relationships, starting new.

    I almost had my foot amputated when I was 10 due to blood poisoning (long story, but important to note I never felt really emotionally scarred by it and recovered relatively quickly considering). The surgery scar left behind is a reminder of my youth, a special period of time in my life, a sign of my resilience, a mark of my parents worry and just growing up. Without the surgery scar I would be missing my left foot :-) The healing saved me, even though it left something significant behind.

  • http://www.aneccentricmagnolia.com Roxanne

    Carol’s words resonate within me. And yes, it makes sense, the notion that healing does not look like or take the shape we think it will. I would venture further, and assert that we perhaps fail to recognize healing …. until well within its grasp. Is healing a destination, or a blueprint, a road map? Good question.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Jeff, welcome—thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I haven’t read Care of the Soul, but it sounds like Moore is making an important point: We can’t always fix or change what *is,* but we can move toward a place where we’re able to live fully with the wounds.

    Larkinsmom, your story is such an amazing one—there’s so much to ponder and learn from it. What’s really fascinating is this persistent desire we have to sustain the life we live, simply because we can’t imagine anything different, let alone better. We’re really good at convincing ourselves and others that we aren’t “sick”! Yet, as you point out, your old self had to die—my old life had to die—to truly learn strength, humility and grace.

    Carol, when I hear stories like yours, it takes these ideas of “cure” and “healing” to a completely different realm. Sometimes, as adults going through our own messes, we can see how our mistakes have maybe played a role, and how complicated the circumstances are—it might be difficult to even imagine a “cure”. But when there’s a child who loves life with cancer, the idea of a cure is SO clear, just as the results of “no cure” are clear. It’s hard to even know how to respond to you, other than to say I’m so grateful you’re willing to share your story, and I thank God that you had a good friend walking alongside you. Blessings.

    Susan, your comment brings to mind C.S. Lewis’ book Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the painful process the dragon (Eustace) had to undergo to shed many layers of rough, scaly skin. It’s a horrendous process, but in the end Eustace is transformed. That story fits this post so perfectly, I’m surprised I didn’t think about it as I was writing! Thanks for being a part of this collaborative process. :) (I love the way you think about your own scar, too.)