I was asked to “give my testimony” for church’s recent deacon board meeting, but it wasn’t the expected “here’s how I was saved” testimony. No, the deacon board chairman had heard a story I told, and he wanted me to tell the entire board.
The day before Father’s Day, 2011, I was digging a small hole in our home garden for a new plant. I finished digging, placed the plant and the emended soil in the hole, and stood up. A pain so sharp shot through my body that I had to brace myself against the house. For several moments, I couldn’t walk, and when I did, I had to take baby steps.
“I pulled something,” I thought. I got inside, took ibuprofen, and it was much improved the next day.
Three weeks later, it was back big time. No position was comfortable. The best sleeping position was flat on my back on the floor, and no pillow. The doctor prescribed medication that was one short stop from morphine, and I was taking it full strength. I couldn’t drive for three weeks, and so I worked from as best I would.
I started using a cane. At one point, I was walking sideways.
The MRI confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis – I had a ruptured disk (No. 5, for those who know this stuff). Surgery became a distinct possibility.
I had cortisone shots in the back. Twice. Neither had any effect. I went to one physical therapy facility, and each time had a different therapist. After a few weeks, a new therapist looked at my file and said, “We have you doing too many things. Every therapist has a favorite set of exercises, and none of it’s doing any good.”
I found another therapist. Every Tuesday and Thursday for the next six months, I was in physical therapy. And traction twice a week.
In November, our pastor preached a sermon on anointing and healing. My wife kept nudging me. I rolled my eyes. We knew what the problem was, and a drop of oil on my forehead wasn’t going to fix it.
But I studied the specific passage in the epistle of James. This is what it says: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16).
If you look at the verse in context, it is one in a rather long list of instructions at the end of the letter. Cumulatively, the instructions are about submission. And if you read it closely, you’ll see the passage doesn’t promise a miraculous, instant healing. It just says healing will happen – and suggests that the healing is much broader than a temporary sickness.
Submission, huh? Great. The one thing I’ve always wrestled with.
I asked our pastor to schedule a praying and anointing ceremony. It happened in December, after a Sunday church service. I didn’t expect instant healing. I knew this was about submission. And I was not instantly healed.
I could tell that physical therapy was helping, but I was a long way off from healed.
A few weeks late, in January, we met with a surgeon. He looked at the x-rays and shocked us when he said, “No surgery. You’re healing.”
“But the pain is still there,” I said, dumbfounded. “How can I be healing?”
“Your brain hasn’t figured it out yet. It’s learned that pain is there, so that’s what you’re feeling. But the rupture is dissolving. No surgery.”
A month later, I put the cane in the closet.
About six weeks after that, I rode my bike for the first time in nine months.
Brennan Manning, in The Furious Longing of God, quotes the words of Hans Urs Von Balthasar: “I say to you, blessed is he who exposes himself to an existence never brought under mastery, who does not transcend, but rather abandons himself to my ever-transcending grace.”
It wasn’t about back pain. It was about submission. And faith. A ruptured disk turned out to be a little gift.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Furious Longing of God. To see other posts on this chapter, “Little Gifts: Healing,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
The photograph at the top could easily have been me, except you would have seen the physical therapist pushing with all her strength to force my leg upright. It brought tears every time she did it.