By Pastor Matt
The Myth of Wholeness
The View from the Back Row...
I remember as a kid, sitting in a hard pew at Calvary Primitive Methodist Church (No...we didn't meet in caves...but it's a fair question) on a Sunday night and finding out it was VIDEO night - which was a big freaking deal waaaaaaay back then. No regular worship with organ and piano. No Sunday night sermon to fill my brain still full from the Sunday morning sermon. But... a video. So our pastor cranked up the diesel-powered, crank-start, half-ton, water-cooled VCR and showed us...a video. It turns out it was a video testimony from a dude who was a Vietnam veteran who, when he was a young soldier, was preparing to hand-launch a phosphorous grenade during a firefight when, at the moment he was about to release it, he took a bullet to the wrist and wound up launching the grenade on himself. He was in a gunboat on a river at the time, and I remember his vivid (and brutal) description of watching pieces of his own burning and disintegrating body float up from the river as he sank down to the bottom - and how, after a miraculous rescue and the even bigger miracle of him SURVIVING, when they opened him up to begin surgery, phosphorous still trapped in what was left of his body set him and the operating room on fire. Crazy stuff. Needless to say, he was Messed. Up. He would describe his post-trauma body as a collection of numerous and various prosthetics (limbs, hand/fingers, facial, eye etc.) and reconstructions pieced together by a litany of surgeries. He would also tell of the challenges and difficulties he faced daily just to be and do all the things those of us who haven't been on the wrong end of a phosphorous grenade take for granted...like, you know, breathing and walking and seeing with depth perception and stuff like that. Ultimately, his story was his testifying to the the grace and power of God and the triumph of the human spirit over it all...as well it should be. However...as amazing of a story (and man!) as it was...30 years removed from that rare video night, the story itself is not what grips me now.
As a matter of fact, the only reason I share it here today is that I'm mad. A bit more than mad actually. Okay...(fair warning)...freaking pissed is what I am. And, if you're still reading, I'll tell you why...
Can you imagine anyone going up to this heroic survivor and suggesting to him that "God wants Him whole"? That God wants him "free" from the effects of the wound(s) he encountered that now hinder and diminish him physically? That God does not want him "stuck" where he's at in this condition? Or even WORSE...insinuate to him that he isn't trying or hasn't tried hard enough to "heal" or overcome or that he's hanging onto the past and not letting them go? Or that God wants better for him or more for him...or some such other similar BS. Now, if someone did say/do ANY of these things, let alone a combination of them, we would (I hope at least) politely draw them aside to a quiet and out-of-the-way place...and promptly slap the spit out of them. Because saying these things to someone who has survived severe physical trauma who now lives with the physical diminishments and limitations that that trauma caused would be, ummm, kinda insensitive to say the least, yes? Yes. Insensitive...and offensive and tasteless and tactless and ignorant and arrogant. Actually...just plain crappy.
You know what's crappier?
WE DO THIS IN THE CHURCH - ALL THE TIME.
Oh, we don't do it to people who have been limited and diminished by PHYSICAL trauma...we do it to people who have been wrecked by emotional trauma. Spiritual trauma. Relational trauma. SOUL trauma. And it sucks. Badly. I wish I knew why we did it. I suspect there are tons of reasons. But one reason I'm sure of is that soul trauma is generally out of sight by its very nature. I mean, it's pretty hard to look at the the disabled veteran in the wheelchair with his glass eye, prosthetic limbs, oxygen machine and skin grafts, and insinuate to him that God doesn't want him"stuck there" or wants him "whole." But the mom who lost a child to a heroin overdose in 1997 who hasn't been able to sing or deeply smile since that day? What about her? (or maybe this son who lost his mom in a flaming head-on collision on December 11, 1998). Or the wife, whose husband cheated on her over a decade ago who has since been unable to truly trust (or love?) in her deepest places, who, after all this time, still has recurring nightmares watching her husband enter a bedroom with another woman and close the door? What about her? Or the faithful follower of Christ who, although he believes in faith that God cannot let him down, feels like God has repeatedly let him down and the accompanying grief has permanently dimmed the light in his eyes? What about him? How about the young widow who is raising two daughters alone after fighting along side her husband during his battle with cancer...who saw him into remission and celebrated his healing only to have the cancer come back and take his life? How about her? What about all of these precious ones (and so many like them..and...you?) who have taken a phosphorous grenade to the soul? What of them?
Pfffft....God, of course, wants them whole. Right, Church? No lingering, let alone permament soul diminishments and/or disabilities can be tolerated here because God doesn't want them "stuck" in the wounds their soul-trauma has dealt them, right? It's just not healthy. Obviously God wants them to be healed, if not completely, then AT LEAST to the point where the effects of their wounds can't actually, you know, like, be SEEN or NOTICEABLE or anything. Because after all, they are "more than conquerors" and "by his stripes we are healed." If the effects of the damage the soul-grenade has done to them dare to linger or (gasp) appear to maybe even be a fixture in their lives then they are obviously hanging on to the past and just need to let go or "do the hard work" of getting healed.
It's a steaming load of you-know-what. All of it.
Look, I know it's well intentioned (so, of course, is the road to Hell...but I digress). And I know there are some who do wallow and need a swift kick to help them out (I know this because I can be that guy). I get it. I really do.
I also know that the Church is literally killing the spirit of countless scores (I've met them) of some of the most vulnerable children of God with its ignorance here. Killing - by not simply letting wounded people be...well...wounded people. Killing - by it's maddening refusal to simply and compassionately acknowledge what is patently and kindergarten-ly obvious. Namely, that the effects of significant wounds and traumas are often...permanent. Not just physical ones. Emotional ones. Spiritual ones. Relational ones. And that these soul-traumas might just leave us as limited and diminished in certain emotional, relational, and spiritual ways as a physical trauma would leave us limited in physical ways. It would be straight up cruel to tell our aforementioned Vietnam grenade survivor that God wants him to be whole and breathe completely freely and fully...with his half a lung. Or that God wants him to run like he used to...on prosthetic limbs. Cruel. Murderously so. Well-intentioned or not.
Our greatest healing and encouraging power is NOT in trying to convince people that God is going to fix all the broken and diminished parts of themselves that the traumas of their lives have delivered to them (and...just in case you're wondering...I do believe in miracles...have experienced them...they happen). Our greatest healing power lies in showing people that we will stay with them IN their woundedness. So, you know what wouldn't be cruel to our Vietnam hero, Church? You know what would be so freaking non-cruel that it would actually give soul-deep strength and be potentially life-savingly compassionate?...walk slower with him. Breathe and travel at his pace. Acknowledge his deep wounds and the very likely permanent damage they have done to him...and the permanent damage done to every beautiful, precious target of a soul-grenade. Yes. Compassionately acknowledge ALL of those wounds...and meet him there. Stay with him there. Stay with them there. Stay with me there.
Okay so it can't be right
I cry and try and think and fight
Okay so I need some help
But they can't fix the way I feel
King's X - Black the Sky