When Jesus Does Not Heal

It seems like a pretty insensitive question. The disciples come across a person who had been blind from birth, and ask Jesus,

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus, of course, sets them straight. This guy isn’t blind because he sinned. He is blind so that the work of God might be made manifest in him. And then — BOOM– Jesus heals him.

Blindness, disease, misfortune–when we encounter these things it is not God sending down his wrath because we’ve been bad. God doesn’t work that way. Jesus comes to bring life, to breathe healing. In this fallen and imperfect world, God allows us to experience trials and misfortune so that His work might be made manifest in us.

But what about when Jesus does not heal?

Redemptive suffering, you say. And yeah, it’s the correct answer. But it’s not an easy one.

The whole point of This Christianity Thing is that the path to Heaven is the Cross. We will all come to Calvary. We will all suffer. Yet, because of the Cross—because of Jesus— our suffering can have meaning. Our suffering is a part of our sanctification, and is meant to be offered up to Jesus in order to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24).

Knowledge of this fact may not make the chemo easier or the grief hurt less, but at least, because of Jesus, we can do something with our suffering. We can give our hurt to Jesus. Not to make it hurt less, but to allow it to be used for good.

Still, it is a bit difficult grappling with the fact that the same Jesus who healed the blind man sometimes allows me to continue in my blindness, or my sickness, or my pain, without manifesting His power through a miraculous healing. Yet I also know that Jesus doesn’t owe me anything. I know that on this side of Heaven, there will always be suffering. I really don’t presume God to grant me miracles to reward my good behavior, and I know my struggles are not Jesus punishing me for bad behavior.

Sometimes bad things just happen.

But if I’m being totally honest, sometimes my “God doesn’t owe me anything” attitude has less to do with faith than it does with just not trusting God all that much. I spout off fancy, two-dollar phrases like, “Redemptive Suffering,” while on the inside, I’m asking with the disciples, “Jesus, who sinned? Why did this have to happen?”

After all, God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, right? So then what is even the point in praying? Is it all just essentially “points” and chugging along so that I can end up in the right place when I die?

When my knee-jerk reaction to suffering or trials is, “Well, God doesn’t owe me anything,” I think there’s something sort of “off” in my relationship with God. The statement itself is true. God doesn’t owe me anything. He has already given me everything and then some. Yet God loves me with the love of the Father. When I am crushed in spirit, His response is never simply, “Well, remember, I don’t owe you anything, Mary.”

It might not be in His perfect will to take my suffering away in the way that I am praying for, but it is not out of contempt or forgetfulness on God’s part that miracles appear to not come. It is out of love.

God understands my pain. He wants me to draw near to Him in times of trial, not as some kind of test of my love for Him, but because He has a plan and  purpose for every moment of my life. God causes all things to work together for my good–my ultimate good, yes, but the seldom-spoken truth is that my ultimate good and my immediate good are actually not in opposition to one another.

I once heard a priest (I think it was Fr. John Riccardo) say that the only thing that is going to happen at the end of our lives/ at the end of time is that the veil separating us from seeing things as they truly are will be pulled away. It won’t be that we suddenly won’t remember the events in our lives that caused us great pain, we will just finally see them in their fullness. We will see where God was and what He was doing in our lives’ greatest trials. We will see that God never abandoned us, and even in our weakest moments, He was drawing us closer to Himself.

We will finally see all the ways in which God has made His work manifest in us, even in those times in which it seemed He left us in our blindness.

So we should never tire of praying for miracles; and we can be assured that God is always, always at work within us.

Lord, Make Me Skinny And Summer Ready–But Not Yet!

In preparation for our upcoming summer vacation, Tyler and I are no longer eating after dinner. Nights are sad now. No evening bowl of popcorn to look forward to. My hopes of indulging in a bowl of ice cream after putting the kids to bed have been dashed. No more rummaging through the pantry to savor some late-night chocolate chips. (It’s clear why I needed to stop eating after dinner, right?)

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’ll let ya know.

Of course this “no eating after dinner” rule was conceived in the morning. Sunday morning, to be precise. On the way to church and still full from the night before, I recommitted myself to “getting serious” and making an effort to “eat better” before our trip. But I knew I needed a hard and fast rule, because I am weak– and everything just tastes so.much.better. after the kids go to sleep. I also knew that if I didn’t name it, say it out loud, and have Tyler to keep me accountable, I’d inevitably be in search of another bowl of popcorn after putting the kids to bed that very night.

So I said it.

No more eating after dinner. Deal? Deal.

Ask me how it’s going on any given day around noon, I’ll say it’s been great. But after putting the kids to bed, I’m still negotiating with myself about just how necessary this rule is.

This is so stupid. There’s nothing to do!! 

I go to bed early, sad and defeated, dreaming of breakfast.

The truth is that there would be nothing wrong with having a healthy snack after putting the kids to bed. But if I were skipping downstairs every night for a few sticks of celery and a tablespoon of peanut butter, I wouldn’t have needed to implement this rule for myself in the first place.

Sometimes you just need those extreme guard rails to get yourself back on track. Right now, I need a bright neon sign for my kitchen that flashes “CLOSED” after a certain hour (not literally, but man, wouldn’t that be cool..)

I don’t think God cares how much I weigh, what I look like on the beach, or whether I indulge in the occasional late night dessert. And I don’t mean to over-spiritualize my summer diet/fitness plan, but it’s hard not to notice a few correlations between making healthy lifestyle changes and combatting spiritual sloth.

I remember the first time I was given the advice to look for little acts of mortification as a way to practice “saying no” to myself.  Skip salt on your food. Pick your second-choice at meals. Little acts. Nothing as drastic as “Stop eating at 7pm!”, just little ways to practice denying myself insignificant physical pleasures, so that when BIG things that I actually needed to say no to would come along, it wouldn’t be such a foreign decision.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little seasoning to your food. And if you are offered your very favorite breakfast in the world, there’s no sin in choosing to eat it. It’s just that if all we ever do is indulge our desires, it becomes so.difficult. to do anything else. Before you know it, you’re eating chocolate chips in the pantry in the dark.

We all need a little practice saying no to ourselves from time to time.

Still, denying myself is not the goal. It’s a means. Right now I need those big neon signs in the kitchen that say “closed,” after I clear the dinner table. But not forever.

In a few weeks, we’ll go on vacation and I’ll hopefully feel healthier and happier than I would have if I didn’t set down some rules for healthy living. But eventually, I’m going to eat a bowl ice cream again after the kids go to bed. If one bowl turns into a nightly ritual of “What kind of junk am I going to eat tonight?” then I’ll need to reevaluate and maybe break out the metaphorical neon signs again.

So learn from the lesson that I keep having to re-learn myself! Practice self-control in your daily life. Offer up that last bite of food. Skip dessert. Resist turning the AC to full-blast as the temperature rises.

Get a little uncomfortable every now and again. It’s good for you!

 

 

“The Praying Type” isn’t a thing.

“I’m headed out to take a big test.  If you’re the praying type…”

“If you’re the praying type, I could really use some prayers for this job interview…”

“Feeling anxious/stressed out lately.  If you’re the praying type…”

Maybe this is overly nit-picky of me, but this phrase, “If you’re the praying type,” bugs me.

In fairness, I think we say it without even thinking about it. It’s just the go-to polite way to ask others to pray for you, without feeling needy or demanding. Plus, it acknowledges that not everyone prays and, for some reason, we seem to think that those who don’t pray need us to say that we’re not asking them to.

But, if you think about it, it’s sort of a dumb thing to say.

First of all, it doesn’t even really make sense. Personally, when I hear “the praying type,” I picture someone with a Bible kneeling in a church. But of course, there isn’t just one “type” of person who prays. Lots of different types of people pray. Regular church-goers, habitual sinners, people who haven’t darkened the door of a church in years. There isn’t a specific mold you have to fit in order to address your prayers to God. This phrase makes it sound like there is, and that’s just annoying.

More importantly, though, if you identify as the praying “type,” you should probably believe that everyone–even those who don’t actually pray–are in fact “the praying type,” too.

Do you have hopes, dreams, longings, fears, and just general thoughts that you often feel the need to express to another person?

Then, my friend, you are the praying type.

Prayer is a conversation.  A conversation in which we share our hearts with God in the belief that doing so might bring about a change within us or a specific situation. Those of us who believe in prayer believe in a God who listens to us and wants to answer us when we cry out to Him. This is a God who wants to take an active part in our lives. Either this God is real or He is not. His willingness to listen to us or to answer our prayers does not depend on whether we have prayed every day, or never prayed; and it certainly does not depend on what “type” of person we are.

Now I’m not saying we should demand or ask that non-believers address prayers to a God they don’t believe in on our behalf.  I just hate that our most commonly used invitation to prayer is so lame and wimpy sounding. Why would we ever limit the invitation to pray to specific “type” of person?

We wouldn’t add this sort of caveat to any other request grounded in reality.  At dinner time, we would never say something like, “I’m hungry.  If you’re the type who believes humans need to eat, you’re welcome to join me for dinner.”  That would be silly. The fact is that hunger is a real human experience and dinner is a real solution to it!  Those who wanted to eat dinner with us would join, and I have a hard time believing that those who did not want to join us–for whatever reason– would be offended by the invitation.

So too with prayer.  We have problems, and, as believers, we believe our Creator can help us with those problems.

Why not invite everyone to dinner?

Just something to think about. I mean, if you’re the thinking type 🙂

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What Nobody Tells You About Getting Married

You’ve probably heard that marriage can be difficult. I’m sure you’ve heard that at times your spouse will drive you crazy, that eventually the “honeymoon” will be over, and that’s when the real work involved in love will begin.

Love, after all, is an action, and not merely a feeling.

Well, if you’ve heard all of that, then maybe you also need to hear this:

Marriage is actually supposed to be awesome. Like, really, really wonderful.

I realize that it’s frustrating when it seems like the world doesn’t take marriage or love seriously enough. Marriage is supposed to be this sacred, lifelong union of two people, each no longer living for themselves, but living for one another. And yet it seems like so many people just cut and run when the going gets a little rough.

(It seems that way. But the truth is that this is probably rarely, if ever, truly the case with failed marriages.)

Do we really think that anyone gets married these days unaware of the fact that marriage will be hard at times? We may not get much right about marriage as a society, but the fact of it being difficult is something we’ve had pretty well beaten into our collective subconscious. Honestly, it is a wonder that people still get married at all with all of our talk about the difficulties of marriage!

The fact is that people know that marriage is going to be difficult. Yet people choose to get married anyway. It seems to me that the problem is not so much that we aren’t preparing people for how *difficult* marriage is going to be. I think the problem is that, with all of this talk and all of the emphasis put on the difficulties and the *work* involved to make a marriage work, we don’t give people enough of a reason to hold out for a relationship that is actually worth building a marriage on.

What nobody tells you about marriage is that it is supposed to be awesome. Building a life together with someone you love and who loves you…Growing up and growing old together with someone who gets to know you better than anyone else in the world…Having someone to talk to when you need a friend, a shoulder to cry on, and someone who encourages you to keep growing, keep trying, and for whom you get to do the same.

Marriage is amazing! Or at least, it is supposed to be.

It is also true that all marriages will take work. All of us are imperfect and will inevitably fall short of what I just described above. But it is possible to choose someone with whom you will maybe have to work just a bit harder at marriage (or even considerably harder), than another couple who are perhaps better suited for one another. Marriage takes work, but I hate to say that it is possible to make a poor decision to marry someone with whom the work might be unnecessarily grueling.

That’s ok. It’s not the end of the world. It is, in my mind, not a reason for divorce. I believe that your spouse is, for better or for worse, absolutely and unquestionably “the one,” because your spouse is “the one” you promised to love, honor, and be faithful to for as long as you both shall live. Difficult marriages can still be totally happy and totally loving; they just may take a little bit (or a lot) more heavy lifting to get there.

I think we put emphasis on the work of marriage because we assume we’re talking to an audience of only-married people.  Maybe we’re subconsciously talking to our own parents who called it quits when we wish they had stuck it out. Or maybe we’re talking to ourselves after going through an infamous “rough patch” in marriage.

But we need to be careful with putting too much emphasis on the work and the hardships. Because listening too are those who are trying to figure out whether or not they should marry a specific person. They hear us and all of our talk about the work marriage takes, and they wonder,

If love is all choice and not about feelings, then maybe I should just ignore this anxiety I feel about this person with whom I’m discerning marriage. After all, I liked them when we started dating, and feelings fade, right? 

The truth is that while it is important to be willing to put in the work involved in marriage, the person with whom you choose to do the work is even more important. Maybe that seems like an obvious point to make, but I think it’s worth emphasizing. Marriage is a vocation in which you are called to devote yourself to a specific person, not simply to an abstract state.

So, to the young couple who is not yet married, please know: Your relationship shouldn’t be full of hard work, not yet.

Will you have rough patches, even when dating? 

Yes. It’s not that you won’t have to “work” at your relationship prior to marriage. You’re both human, which means that even when dating you’ll have to learn how to handle one another’s shortcomings. But how you handle those rough patches is telling. Does your handling it make you love (and even, like) the other person more? Or is it just another chance to say, “Oh well, all relationships take work!”

Does the thought of marrying this person fill you with overwhelming excitement?

It should! I think sometimes it’s possible to fall for someone initially, and want it to work out so badly that you can ignore that your feelings for them have changed as you’ve gotten to know them better. Well look, you’re not married. If you don’t actually like this person as much as you thought you would, you’re under no obligation to “stick it out.” In fact if you already feel this way, you’ll be doing this person a favor by breaking it off so you can each find people you’re actually over the moon excited to spend your life with.

Will you get to the stage where your spouse annoys you?

They tell me yes, but I’m honestly not there yet with Tyler (we’re just shy of five years married though, so I guess we’ve got time 😉 ). But, if you’re only dating someone and you already find them annoying in all sorts of little ways, it is not going to get easier when you get married.

Marriage won’t fix your problems. It will just mean you’re stuck with them, which is both exciting and scary. So choose someone with whom you work well, and even though marriage will still take work, it’ll also be awesome. I promise. 🙂

Can Catholics “Pray Over” People? Answering 3 Objections to the “Laying On Of Hands”

I grew up in a very “charismatic” family. To me, though, we were just Catholic.

As far as I was concerned, everybody who was Catholic went to mass on Sundays, listened to Scott Hahn tapes (yes, TAPES) on long car rides, and had grandfathers who would pray over people, receive words of prophecy, and experience God manifesting physical healings through the laying on of hands.

It wasn’t until I grew up and met other devout Catholics that I learned that there are some within the Church who are not on board with the “style” of prayer on which I was raised. There are those who view laypeople praying over one another as maybe not-totally-ok or perhaps even not in line with Church teaching.

Well listen here, y’all. There is nothing in Scripture or in Church teaching that prohibits laypeople from laying hands on one another and asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not a thing. I promise.

When you look this up, the closest “objection” from any official Church teaching you’ll find is to point out that praying over someone is not the same thing as a sacrament. There is a difference between a layperson praying over someone and a bishop conferring the sacrament of confirmation, or a priest giving absolution. Of course, those in the Charismatic Renewal will be the first to tell you this. We need the sacraments. Praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is something we should all be doing regularly as Christians, in addition to receiving the sacraments.

But because praying over people is still sometimes seen as “weird” or “not ok” in some Catholic circles, I wanted to write to answer some common objections I’ve encountered over the years.

 “God Doesn’t *Need* You To Lay Your Hands On Someone”

This is absolutely true. God can work miracles in whichever way He pleases, and He is certainly not bound to our physical actions. There is nothing *magical* about physically laying your hands on someone to pray for them.

Still, there is no denying that throughout Salvation History, God employs physical means to carry out His Divine power. We see this from the very beginning. Adam is formed from the dust of the ground, Eve is taken from his rib. In Exodus, Moses must hold his arms in the air in order for the Israelites to defeat the Amalekites in battle. When his arms inevitably grow tired, Aaron and Hur have to come to his side to hold his arms for him, because when they drop, the Amalekites begin to win the battle. It seems so arbitrary (and how foolish they must have looked!). Surely God could’ve told Moses that all He needed to do was pray fervently and silently for the duration of the battle—but for whatever reason, that’s not what God wanted. Even in Jesus’ ministry, He heals a blind man with spittle and dirt. Surely He didn’t need either, but for some reason, Jesus used physical matter to do His Father’s work.

Of course God doesn’t need us to lay our hands over every person we pray for, but if He asks you to, will you?

“It’s ‘Too Showy’”

This one goes with the previous objection, and perhaps even gives some context for it. Yes, praying over someone makes a bit of a scene. And to some extent that’s probably the point.

Laying your hands on someone to pray for them is a physical witness to your belief in the power of God. When you lay your hands on someone and ask for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you’re saying that you believe that God will answer when He is called upon. You’re counting on Him to show up, right then and there. You’re not demanding for Him to do so, of course, but as Christians we believe our God is faithful, good, and loving to His children. Why wouldn’t we expect Him to show up?

This is not presumption. It’s faith. God may not answer our prayers in the way we expect or want Him to, but God answers the prayers of His children.

“It Ought To Be About The Giver, Not The Gifts”

I agree with this. And I think most people I’ve met who pray over others agree with it, too.

The thing is, the Giver wants to bestow His gifts on us. Sometimes we’d prefer that He did not, as His gifts are often heavy crosses that seem impossible to bear. But as we progress in holiness, we learn that it is when we embrace these crosses that we come closest to Jesus.

Ironically, many who raise this objection of “Giver and not Gifts” to those in the Charismatic Renewal are among the first to point out that we should not reject the gifts of God when they are crosses, but for whatever reason these same people struggle to accept that God also might have sweet gifts of charisms of the Spirit to bestow on His children, too. Well, just as “charismatic” Catholics must be cautious of not becoming distracted by gifts of the Spirit, so should “traditional” Catholics be cautious of rejecting the gifts God wants to bestow on them in the name of fear masquerading as a kind of false piety.

To be honest, I’ve found myself leaning towards both directions at different points in my life. The fact is that we need to embrace all the gifts God has for us, simply because He wants us to have them.

Conclusion

So rest assured, my friends. There is nothing “unCatholic” about praying over one another! It is completely in keeping with Scripture and with Church teaching.

By the way, if you’re new to this “style” of prayer–or even if you’re not!– I highly encourage you to check out “The Wild Goose Is Loose” produced by 4PM media. It is a great overview and introduction to praying to and with the Holy Spirit!