The store was so cluttered with postcards, coffee cups, shell-dolls, agates and kitchen kitsch that I could not see who was speaking but could only hear their voices from across the shop. I was up early, Sharon was sleeping in, and so I headed down to the hotel lobby where we were staying at the Oregon coast to find a cup of coffee and a quiet place to enjoy it. The front desk host directed me to the gift shop for my coffee.
“. . . and so I’ll be praying for you,” I heard a woman say.
“Well, thank you. I appreciate that,” replied a man.
“I’m going to pray for your healing. . . “
“Thank you,” he interrupted.
“. . . that you’ll be healed right out of that wheelchair and raised to your feet.”
Across the shop, and hidden behind rows of Moose Droppings cookies and Big-Foot-Lives! T-shirts, I could feel the awkwardness.
He barely missed a beat. “I have been healed.”
“You’ve been. . . healed?” she asked, startled.
“Yeah, I have. Two-thousand years ago, at the cross. The legs will work again one day—but the healing started back then. But it’s also coming.”
“Well…er, yes. Well, that’s good. I see. That’s right. Amen. Amen, brother.” She quickly left the shop. I found the counter to pay for my coffee.
“You bet,” he said. “Take it easy.” I noted the faintest beginning of a smile on his face.
I often think of the conversation I overheard that day. Well intentioned, superficial, nice Christianese crushed by the reality of continued disability swallowed up in fierce, dignified confidence. People are often in quite a hurry to heal after leaving an abusive church. Their friends and family, who love them, are often in even more of hurry for the healing to happen. They do not mean any harm when they suggest that the recovery process might be sped up a bit, or perhaps is even going on a bit longer than is necessary, and that with a bit of fervent prayer, God will just “get you on our feet.”
“Why can’t you just move on?”
“Do you ever think you’ll be, you know, back to normal again?”
“Your kids need you to put this behind you. You’ve got to think of them, you know.”
“Have you forgiven the abusive pastor yet?”
“Have you forgiven yourself? If you can just accept what happened, you can get beyond it. You need to just find a church, make some new friends, learn from the experience, join a small group. . . and don’t give the old church the satisfaction of seeing you miss a beat.”
“You need a counselor.”
“You need a different counselor.”
These are all well-meant, often flawed, statements. I walked out of an abusive church on August 28, 1996, a couple of decades ago. Yet I am still recovering, still working through things, still healing, still needing to talk, to process, and to receive words of grace from friends, old and new. I do not carry shame anymore for the things I did while I was in the dark church, and I am not (as) angry at what was done to me and to my family. But I often think of that twelve year chunk of life, from the age of twenty-four to thirty-six, when I stuffed down, plastered over, and tried to ignore my genuine, true self, and instead sought to build a false-self in which I could (I supposed) survive the church that became a house of pain and hurt, rather than a house of healing.
I need to heal, of course. The healing that the man in the wheelchair that day spoke of so confidently was a deeper, older healing–one that is just as powerful today as the day Jesus died. The healing has already begun, and it is here, but it’s also coming.