I have trouble praying for healing, specifically healing for terminal illnesses. There, I said it. It may surprise some of you to hear me say that, it may hurt some. After all, don’t I want people to get better?
Yes! Of course I do! But I can’t quite bring myself to pray for it. It’s not like I am not sure that praying for healing makes a difference. I have friends who have been supernaturally healed (and not so supernaturally, medical science is after all a wonderful gift from God). A year ago I was blessed to be sat next to a man as he got up and ran around the room as his torn cruciate ligament miraculous healed. I know God can, and does, heal, though I do not understand why it doesn’t always happen.
So why do I not pray for those who are dying? Well I certainly do pray for them: I pray for relief from pain, for good medical care, for courage, for emotional and spiritual healing and above all I pray their faith (whether they have it or not) grows and deepens, and they know God’s loving presence with them. But I don’t tend to pray they are healed.
I guess there are a number of reasons for it: a few years ago I started to realise just how bad we are at dealing with death in Britain. Our society is obsessed with not ageing (it’s a sign of getting closer to death), with creating for ourselves a slice of immortality through fame or at least our families remembering us. I don’t think this is particularly healthy and it felt that me praying for people to avoid death (i.e. be healed from terminal illness) was just burying my head in the sand about the fact that everyone dies. Sometimes I’m not sure it’s the most loving thing to do anyway; there are people who are in huge amounts of pain, or who’s age has made them weary of the being in the world, or who aren’t really here mentally any more anyway, for whom death can be a release. Sometimes I think our prayers for healing are more about our desire to keep people here, and our unwillingness to deal with their loss, rather than their best interests.
This is particularly true in the case of people who are Christians. Why would I pray that they remain in this world of pain and sadness and brokenness? I believe that they have the assurance that when they die they go Home; to a place where there is no more pain or tears, to a place where they are able to be fully the person they were created to be, where they will see face to face Love in all His Glory and wonder. Why would I want to stop them going there? A friend of mine said recently that ‘Death is a gift in this broken world’. That’s not to say that those who are not Christians won’t also go to that place, but for me there is not the same guarantee that faith provides.
That’s the pious reason for not praying for healing. I think there is another reason at work too: if I don’t pray it, I can’t be disappointed when it hasn’t been answered. Perhaps that lies more at the heart of things than I’d care to admit. Because essentially I am saying that this prayer, this request is too big for God. After all, a terminal diagnosis is the medical profession saying there is nothing that can be done about it. Prayer in this circumstance is asking for nothing less than a miracle.
Perhaps too I don’t want the uncertainty. So much of our lives are uncertain, but with a terminal diagnosis, even though there are many unknowns about that, the end result is known. We all know what the patient is heading towards. If they were healed, you’d just be put into a situation when you’d be wondering how long until it returns, or until something else kills you. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t?
All the above feels like a confession, and worse, it feels like a betrayal of those who are terminally ill. Why would I not help them if I could? That question is hard enough when it’s friends’ families affected, but right now it is more pertinent than ever as it is affecting those I care most deeply about. I yearn that they would be healed, so we have longer with them and so loved ones are spared the pain of loss. I am deeply grateful for the prayers of those who are able to pray in this way, I’m just not among them. Maybe it betrays a lack of faith in me, but maybe it is fine, and what I need to do at the moment to process what is going on. I do know that for all those who are currently facing terminal illnesses, I believe God is with you, closer than you can imagine, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.