Back before my Lent fell apart, I had been spending some time thinking about prayer, healing, and how it unfolds in our lives. Last night, when I couldn't sleep, my mind turned to the topic again.
I think, most of the time, when we pray for healing, we are really praying for a cure, and there is a difference between healing and curing. A cure removes, eliminates, eradicates the illness or problem. The tumor disappears, the depression is lifted, the blood tests return to normal. It is as if whatever was is no longer. We are cured.
This is what we see in the Gospels. Jesus goes among the people curing their illnesses. They get well. It's the same sort of thing that is required for a miracle for saint's canonization. A cure.
But healing, ah, that's a horse of different color as the Wizard of Oz says. Healing doesn't always entail a cure. Of course, it sometimes does, and that's what we are always hoping for, but often there is no cure involved.
In the past couple of days, I've read two accounts of people who believed they were cured. In both cases, which involved cancer, the tests indicated the disease had been conquered and in both cases, less than a month later, the cancer returned with a vengeance and the individual died within a few days.
My first thought was what a cruel trick God had played. Letting someone thing they were cured and then ZAP, taking them down like a target in a video game. To be honest, I still sort of feel that way even now. If the disease wasn't going to be cured, why have the tests come back normal? It really doesn't seem fair.
But the other side of the story is that in both cases, the individuals, on their deathbeds, asserted beyond any doubt that they had been healed. Not cured. Healed. They said they were now complete, whole, restored to the person God had created them to be. And because they were healed, it didn't matter that they weren't cured.
I'm grappling with this distinction as I continue to battle panic and anxiety. Could I say that I was healed if I continue to wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing and breath ragging all the rest of my life? Even if I felt like I was the person God created me to be?
It would be lovely and pious to say "Oh yes, I would rejoice that I had been healed even though I'm still breathing in paper bags on a regular basis to quell the hyperventilation" but that would be a lovely, pious lie. At least right now it would.
It's clear that we don't get to choose between healing and curing. I'm pretty sure that most of us would choose a cure because it means that whatever is causing us pain and suffering will be eliminated. Choosing healing, on the other hand, may mean that we will continue to suffer, even as the deeper parts of our soul are being restored.
I don't mean to imply that it's always a choice between cure and healing. Obviously people get both. And I'm just selfish enough that I want both. And I'd like them sooner rather than later. I'm just not sure that God agrees!