Within the Recovering Grace community, many often are confronted by well-meaning friends or family who believe that the spiritually wounded should just get over it. The refrains vary from, “You’re being bitter,” to “You just need to leave it at the cross,” to “You WANT to hang on to this.” I recently underwent lumbar spinal fusion surgery after six months of debilitating back pain and after more conservative measures failed to resolve the problem. While I’ve been recovering, it’s given me a lot of time to think and reflect on some parallels between physical and spiritual healing.
Not everybody responds to the same remedy the same way
When I first began to experience the pain that ultimately lead to surgery, I reached for common sense remedies like Ibuprofen and pain relieving gels. I used ice packs and heating pads. I stretched. But my pain grew worse and couldn’t be ignored. And outwardly, it began to show. People would remark, “You look like you’re in pain!” As I explained that I was, I was given all sorts of helpful suggestions. Try massage. See a chiropractor. How about Acupuncture? Wanting to get well, I tried many of these remedies, but none resolved the issue.
I ultimately saw a physician who ordered tests and prescribed still more conservative remedies. I went to physical therapy. I had cortisone steroid injections in my spine. But while I have a number of friends who have found tremendous relief with steroid injections, these treatments did not help me or resolve the issue for me.
Not all pain comes from the same source
After my surgery, I had to stay in the hospital for three days. There were other patients on my floor recovering from surgical procedures as well. I suppose friends who came to visit me could have assumed that everyone on my floor had just undergone back surgery, but that simply wasn’t the case. As I walked around my floor I saw bandages on knees and other joints. In all probability our sources of injury were different and while there was the commonality of surgery, our recoveries will be different as well.
Everybody’s pain is different
Before I underwent surgery, I had a consultation with my surgeon’s staff. I grilled them about what I could expect, post-surgery. How many days would I be in the hospital? How badly would I hurt? Where would I feel pain? Over and over I was told, “We can’t tell you for certain. Everybody’s pain is different. Some people experience tremendous pain after surgery. Some experience no pain. Some heal quickly, and others not so quickly.”
Not all healing follows the same pathway
Unfortunately, this spinal fusion surgery was not my first surgery, but hopefully it will be my last. Some of the surgeries I’ve had have been relatively minor and the recovery was quick and uneventful, such as the surgery to remove my pre-cancerous, gallstone riddled gallbladder. A couple of days of rest and painkillers and I was done.
Others, like the time I needed to have my ACL reconstructed took months of grueling physical therapy in order to recover.
Even after surgery the journey isn’t over
In a few weeks, I will begin a regimen of physical therapy for my back. The goals of this physical therapy program are two-fold: to aid healing and to re-learn how to perform certain tasks so as to prevent future injury. In addition, though my issue has been corrected, it will have a lifelong impact. My running days are most likely over. As are my days of riding roller coasters. Snow skiing is probably out as well. And having had previous surgeries on my knee and shoulder, I know there will be intermittent times throughout the rest of my life when I’ll have a momentary twinge of pain that won’t debilitate me, but will remind me of what I’ve experienced. Similarly, when friends and family can participate in the sports and thrills that I must forego, it too will remind me of what has happened in my past.
What does all of this have to do with spiritual healing?
Many who have grown up in the ATI (Advanced Training Institute) program have experienced tremendous hurts and/or trauma. And just as it would have been foolish for a co-worker to have assumed I had ovarian cysts when I was wincing, because she winced when she had ovarian cysts, it’s unwise to just assume you know what someone else has lived through and/or is dealing with.
Similarly, while clichés or platitudes may have been helpful to you when dealing with your pain, they may be as useful for someone else dealing with their own pain as steroid injections were for me. And what’s worse, even though meant with the purest of intentions, very often they can come across as if you’d told me I’d feel fine if I just took some Ibuprofen.
Just as very, very few people would be excited to undergo back surgery just for the experience, most people in need of spiritual healing don’t WANT to hang on to their pain. Rather, most are probably like I was: going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment and undergoing test after test trying to figure out the underlying problem so that it can be corrected.
Finally, had you met me the day after my surgery, looking rather pale and shuffling around with a walker, you might have falsely assumed, “This guy needs surgery.” No, the intervention had already happened, but healing is a long process. It’s possible that the Holy Spirit HAS already done a work someone’s heart, but depending on where you meet them after that work, they may still be shuffling. Give them assistance, give them compassion, and above all give them time!