At our Virginia church, people aren't afraid to ask God to do the unnatural. They aren't afraid to ask God to heal things that are beyond hope--to work miracles. Because God not only has the power to intervene on our behalf but the desire to.
God didn't design us to be ill. He never desired that people get hurt, experience abuse, die. He loves us and wants something better. And that's why we can know that he'll step in and make a difference.
But not always. God has our best in mind, and sometimes our best isn't to be healed.
When I was in high school, I was really big into soccer and track. I played center-midfield in soccer: my job was to run the ball. In track, I ran the 100-meter hurdles, the 100- and 200-meter sprints, and the 100-meter relay. I loved running.
It was my identity. I was a runner. I was a soccer player. I was good. I was fast.
I didn't know what I was going to do with these skills and accomplishments long-term; as a teen, I wasn't looking that far ahead. I just knew it was who I was for now. It was what I did. It was my life.
The hurdles were my best race. The number of steps you take between each hurdle is vital, determining which foot leads when you go over the hurdle. I took five steps between hurdles, a slightly shorter stride than my normal gait. Coach said I could do it in three if we worked on lengthening my stride.
So I practiced. I tripped a lot. I worked on the grass so I didn't hurt myself. Slowly I got used to spanning the ground between the hurdles in three, long steps.
After days of this, I was ready to do it on the actual track. We set up the hurdles; I practiced my run-up. Then I got down in the blocks and my coach called, "Go!"
Out of the blocks, sprinting towards the first hurdle. I could do this. I'd done it before. Three long strides, and on the fourth I straightened that front leg, ready to sail over the hurdle, back leg curled up in good form.
Crash. I hadn't been close enough to the hurdle, hadn't closed the gap enough in those three strides, and my rear leg caught the hurdle with my toe. I remember flying through the air and scraping a considerable way along the track before coming to a stop.
Both knees were spouting blood. Elbows too. But the worst part was my right leg. When my toe caught the hurdle, I pulled something in my knee.
After a few days of recovering, I tried running. Pain sprouted in my knee, but I pushed myself to endure; that's what running is all about. Push through it. A week later, I ran in our first meet, only doing the 100-meter sprint since I was injured.
The pain in my knee exploded and I couldn't bare it. I didn't even finish the race.
The doctor told me I'd torn ligaments. Not all the way, they said; a partial tear. We didn't have the money for surgery, and while a partial tear won't heal, you can opt instead of surgery to strengthen the connection that remains until it works almost as well as before. I'd have to wear a knee brace and be gentle on it, working up the strength over time. No running for months.
It still hurt during those months in the knee brace. Finally I could remove it and walk normally, and the next season I turned out for track. I didn't race; I wasn't strong enough to run even 100 meters without pain. Instead I walked the track, miles every day, working strength back into my ligaments as my running mates sped past me. If I could just get strong again, I could run. I could be fast and catch up and not be last any more. I could win. I could play soccer.
But the pain of running never went away. I couldn't run. I'd lost the things I loved doing best. I'd lost the joy of speed and running fast; I'd lost my teammates; I'd lost the thrill of victory at the end of a match or race.
I haven't experienced any of those things since.
Why? It's not like I didn't pray wholeness, for God to take away the pain or at least make it good enough to run on. When God did nothing, I tried everything I could to get my knee back in shape. Nothing worked. There I was, willing to work for my healing, but God wouldn't even grant me that.
And why not? Because he didn't love me? Because he couldn't heal me? Because he doesn't work miracles nowadays? Because I didn't have enough faith?
No. God loved me enough to not heal me. I needed to not run any more; I needed to be incapable.
I began to view my old teammates with more compassion. I grew less competitive. I learned the joy of walking. I learned [some] patience. Perhaps most importantly, I did more writing. Now that I had my afternoons and weekends to myself, stories poured out of me.
I became the person who would one day sit down and write this blog post.
God wants us to be whole. He doesn't want me to be unable to run, he really doesn't. But my injury put me on a path to becoming a full-time writer, and God loved me too much to heal me from that. He saw the bright future ahead and made the best choice for me.
Sometimes we think God wants us to be healed above anything else. God wants you to be healed, yes, but some things are more important. God isn't just looking out for your physical or immediate best: he's looking out for your long-term, permanent best. Like parents keeping their kids from eating all their Halloween candy at once.
But I know I'll run again. When God says "no" to healing today, it's not forever.
When God does heal us right now, we need to see it as a part of a larger work. God is renewing the whole earth and all our bodies and we are going to live the way we were meant. No more injuries or cancer or mental illness or death. "Behold, God is making all things new!" (Revelation 21:5)
Sometimes, that newness starts today. Sometimes it starts when we die. But it always happens, and when we get that new, uninjurable, untiring body, we get it forever.
That's the promise I'm looking for. I trust that God knows what's best when he doesn't heal me. I'll still ask for it, because sometimes he does want me to be healed right now. But when he doesn't, I'll learn to be okay with that. I've got so much more to look forward to with the lover of my soul.
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