By Rev. Kathy Bird DeYoung
Spirituality often becomes more important to us in times of tragedy, loss, suffering and illness because it connects us to both our higher power and those around us, helps us to find meaning and purpose, and brings us hope and healing. Sometimes, these very same conditions can make us question ourselves, our spirituality and all we know. In our Spirituality and Emotional Health blog series, our clinicians and chaplains explore what it means to be spiritual beings, how it affects our interactions with the world and how we sometimes struggle with and question our own spirituality.
“I will restore faith unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.”
When we struggle with an illness or infirmity, usually what we want most is healing. In our society when we think of being healed we usually are looking for a cure that restores us to the physical health and wholeness we had previously.
I came across a quote recently that clarifies the difference between cure and healing:
“A cure signified the banishment of physical illness, but a healing could mean not just a physical cure, but a repairing and strengthening of the mind and spirit to improve the quality of life even when no physical cure was possible.”
—Susan Howitch, Absolute Truths
If we focus exclusively on being cured – on the disappearance of illness – then we may miss the healing God has brought or is bringing to our loved one or us.
I have a close friend who has a degenerative muscle disorder in her legs. For the sake of this blog, I’ll refer to her as Sage. When I first met Sage, several years ago, she had unusual but minor leg weakness. She only needed to use a walking stick in the winter to cope with the chronic weakness in her legs.
At that point, she was looking for a cure. Actually, she started out first just looking for a diagnosis so that she could be on her way toward a cure. She endured test after painful test. She saw specialist after specialist. None of these could tell her why she had the deteriorating leg weakness. They were only able to rule out muscular dystrophy and muscular sclerosis among other illnesses and syndromes. They could only tell her what she did not have. Her leg muscles continued to atrophy. Now, she is wheelchair bound.
I also know another woman whom I will refer to as Kendall. Kendall was also diagnosed with a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. Kendall is now almost 40 years old and lives with her mom. Kendall has allowed her illness to dis-able her. She is listless and wonders about the meaning of her life. I bring up Kendall not to be judgmental but rather to highlight how her attitude toward her disability has dis-abled her.
In contrast, Sage has not let her disability dis-able her. She persevered through the disability. First she graduated from college then she obtained a master’s degree in counseling. Upon becoming a licensed counselor, she opened her own counseling practice. After several years in private practice she also now teaches counseling in a university. In the midst of this she also fell in love and was married. Sage has not experienced a cure, but she continually experiences healing both personally and professionally. Her two professions also allow her to help individuals and families experience healing and teach future counselors how to participate in the healing process.
What’s the difference between Sage and Kendall? In one word, the difference is faith.
Kendall and her parents are atheists. They do not believe in any type of higher power. The lack of faith limited Kendall’s perspective. Even though a cure may not have been possible, healing was and still is possible for Kendall with faith.
Sage, on the other hand, found healing in and through her relationship with God. Even though she did not experience a cure, Sage experienced healing. God’s healing. It is God’s healing that helped Sage integrate her disability into her life in order to help others. Instead of becoming dis-abled, Sage became en-abled through her faith and she is en-abled to bring healing.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” This is what Sage has done with her life, also.
It is VERY painful when we do not experience the cure we are seeking. However, if we’re able to perceive the healing, in the midst of our illness or circumstances, we will continue to find hope for the future. We will find healing AND like Sage, we may even be able to help others experience healing.