Wonderful news. My back has been healed.
Wait. Shelf that. I need to back up.
The moment I proclaim victory over something is the moment it usually comes back with a ferocious force and undermines (to say the least) my victory procession. I remember when I prayed for my sister Angie when she was fighting the war of her depression. It was a very particular time when hope was all but gone. The ultimate defeat seemed immanent. My other sister called me and asked me to pray. I paused on Lebanon Rd., just before I got to HWY 720, and prayed with all my heart that God would heal her. A little bit later I got a call saying that Angie suddenly “snapped out of it.” Excited beyond belief, I immediately asked when this changed occurred. I wanted the exact time, to coordinate it with my prayer on Lebonon. As it turned out, the “snap” came at the exact moment I prayed. Victory in the Lord! Praise God! So be it. Amen. These were all my thoughts as I began to spread the good news about the miracle God pulled off just in the nick of time. However, my excitement was short lived as Angie “snapped” back into it about an hour later. Some spiritual humiliation and embarrassment (spiritual mud in my face?) overwhelmed me as I had to tell all those that I had asked to join our victory dance to stop dancing. Eventually (a few months later), as many of you know, the depression took my sister’s life.
I could tell you a couple more stories exactly like that. That is why I am very tentative about my proclamations of victory. I don’t assume things upon the Lord and am very timid about reading too much into my experiences.
As most of you know, I am not charismatic. What I mean by this is that I don’t believe the supernatural gifts (sometimes called “sign” gifts) of the Spirit are continuing, normative, or should be expected (all three extremely important words). You know, gifts such as tongues, miracles, healings, and the like. As I have argued before, I don’t necessarily have any theological bias against them, I just think that ecclesiastical and personal experience says that they are not normative. As well, most of you know that I have been discussing this with my friend Sam Storms, who is a committed charismatic. Over the last year, we have been in dialogue about this issue. Our dialogue has been published both here on this blog and on the Theology Unplugged Podcast. I have been seeking God during this time, trying to be open to change. In fact, I want to change. I often tell people that I am the most want-to-be-charismatic non-charismatic that they will ever meet. And I am serious about this.
Now to my back. In 2005 I discovered that I had significant disc issues. An MRI revealed “Severe Degenerative Disc Disease.” Since 2005, the pain has become increasingly constant and debilitating. Those of you who have back issues know what I am talking about. For the last seven years, I have been to doctor after doctor, trying medicine after medicine, exercise after exercise, and hope after hope. I could not begin to tell you the number of people who have had “the” solution that I just had not tried yet. Nothing has worked with any degree of significance. The pain is there every day. Some days I am more functional than others, but for the most part, for the last few years, I have had to learn to live with radiating pain down my left leg; it has become a chronic butcher to my soul. I have been functional, yes, but you need to know this back story in order to know my back story.
In October, I wrote about a guy who tried to heal my back. He, along with his friend, overheard me complaining about my back at the Credo House. They, with great seriousness and gentleness, asked if they could lay hands on my back and pray for it. Open to charismatic gifts or not, who would refuse such an offer? “Of course, and thank you!” was my response. These two guys were both charismatic and had high expectations. Remember, this is often a criteria of being charismatic—you must expect God to heal. After they had finished their prayer, the pain was still radiating down my leg. In fact, it was worse as I had to stand in one place while they prayed for me (it is very difficult for me to stand in one place). They asked me after the prayer, “Did anything change?” I was heartbroken to be the bearer of bad news. I even thought about lying and just saying that it helped a little. Finally, I responded, “No…But thank you so much for praying for my back.” I then used this illustration as fodder for a blog post to show the “spiritual let-down” I see in the face of so many well-meaning charismatics who want so badly to be used of God to accomplish miraculous feats (well, maybe “fodder” is not the best use of the term).
Here is what I have not told you: About three weeks after this attempted healing, I saw the same guy at Credo studying. He is a regular. As I was walking back to my office, he stood up and asked how my back was. I told him that it was terrible, but thanks for asking. In fact, that morning was particularly bad. The pain in my leg was so terrible I could hardly think straight. I did not expect anything more than an, “I am sorry. I will continue to pray for you,” from this guy. After all, the attempt failed last time, and my present state was just further confirmation of its ineffectiveness. But this guy is a trooper. He said the unexpected, “Can I pray for your back again?” My answer was a pastoral, “of course,” as I wanted him to keep his spirits up (even if that meant a continued hope in these naive charismatic ideas). Like the time before, he laid his hands on me. Like the time before, he prayed specifically for the miraculous healing power of God to come over me and heal my back. But this time was not like the last. As I stood under his hand, just wanting to get the token prayer of concern (as I saw it) over with, something happened. From the place where his hand was laid on me to the tip of my toe, I felt a warm, burning sensation. It was only in the places where my back often hurt. The burning sensation replaced and overwhelmed the nerve pain. It was definite and unexpected. The warmth was then replaced with relief. My back pain had completely disappeared while he prayed.
Once he was done praying, I held a poker face. I did not say, “I am healed!” I did not even say, “It feels better.” I just said, “thank you,” and went back to my office. In truth, I simply anticipated the pain to return and that its cessation would be short lived. As I thought about it in my office, I wondered, “what if?” After all, my “healing,” were it real, could not have been psychologically induced. I was not expecting to be healed, have been somewhat critical of those who do expect such things, and was not really even listening to the prayer. I was just anticipating getting back to my office so that I could sit down and get a tiny bit of relief. However, I sat in my office pain-free for the first time in I don’t know how long.
I did not tell anyone about this. Even as days turned into weeks, I kept quiet, anticipating that the pain would come back. Again, I don’t like to invite people to victory parades which I suspect will turn into bad investments of their hope. Remember Angie?
But here I am writing this five months later. Since that time, my back has not been an issue. Since then, I have been almost completely pain free. Now, I say “almost,” and you are going to have to take this as far as you think you should. There have been two days where I felt a bit of the pain come back. But nothing like it was for five straight years, with hardly a day’s rest. It would be like someone miraculously moving a mountain and leaving a dirt pile behind. The presence of the dirt pile (two days of slight pain), while confusing, does not undermine the absence of the mountain (the serious pain).
I believe that God miraculously healed my back a few months ago through the agency of a wonderful man who was determined not to give up. Even if the pain did come back today, the combination of the warmth, sudden disappearance of pain, and five months of being virtually pain-free after suffering so much over the years leads me to believe that God placed his hand on my back and gave me relief. For this I am so grateful.
Though my friend who prayed for me is a committed charismatic, I still am not. Even if I never have back pain again, it would not be compelling enough to make me move the that camp. Why? Because I have always believed (at least in theory) in the power of prayer and I have always believed that God may heal through prayer. The charismatic issue has to do with the continuation, normativeness, and expectancy of gifts being given to people to function in the church, not one-time healings here and there. While I remain somewhat skeptical of my own experiences, I do invite you to this parade. For five months I have been without pain in my back and God dun it!