When God Doesn’t Heal

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I know the story I am supposed to tell.

I am supposed to tell the one about my miraculous healing when I was just six days old.

I could tell you I was rushed into the best children’s hospital in the country, as the doctors explained to my parents that I had suffered a severe brain haemorrhage and there was nothing they could do. I could tell you about my parents crying with helplessness over their 6lb first-born baby, as the machines beeped and the doctors muttered words like ‘vegetable’ and ‘unable to ever read or write’ and ‘prayer’.
I could tell you of the nurse who offered to pray with my then-agnostic parents; the surprise of the doctors the next day when the scan showed my brain was completely better; the doctors telling my parents, ‘this is what is known in the trade as a miracle.’ I could tell you of my parents wandering into a church several months after that, and finding God because they knew He had saved their daughter, and He might be interested in saving them too.
This is the story that would be told to a packed stadium at a Christian conference. We love to hear the story of the paralysed man who now walks and leaps and praises God. I could tell it well. I could tell it so it would bring glory to God. It is a true story, and it is a good one.
But I have another story to tell: the lesser-told story, the ongoing story, the one that we wouldn’t tell in a big Christian conference because we wouldn’t know whether we were supposed to applaud at the end.
I have a story about being miraculously healed, but I also have one about not being healed.
I was diagnosed with M.E. nine years ago, but I had it for ten years in a mild form before that. That’s ten years of being wiped out every time I had a virus, and not knowing why; ten years of doctors telling me my tiredness was probably from depression, even though I didn’t feel depressed. That’s another four years of suddenly being unable to walk more than five minutes, needing to be pushed in a wheelchair, needing to cut down my work to four hours a day, then just four hours a week; the doctors looking perplexed and concerned. That’s a further five years of deterioration: being unable to walk more than a few paces, getting a stairlift for the house, hiring a nanny to help me lift my baby, spending most of each day resting in bed, leaving the house once a fortnight in my wheelchair for a happy hour in the sunshine; the doctors silent and unsure. That’s nineteen years of slow deterioration and disability, and a whole lot of helpless tears and holding hands and prayer.
Once more, the doctors are saying that they don’t know what to do and it would take a miracle to get me better – but that miracle just doesn’t come. The years go by, the uncertainty and the coping strategies continue, but the miracle doesn’t come. God can heal me, this I know – He did it before. I don’t doubt His power, and on a good day, I don’t doubt His goodness either. Sometimes He heals; sometimes He doesn’t.
We don’t tell these stories in the stadiums of Christian conferences – the stories of the non-miraculous, the ongoing, the unresolved. It’s not like I can even say I’ve seen great spiritual benefits to offset the suffering: God hasn’t been closer to me in my time of suffering; I haven’t been any holier. It’s just been hard.
But I am telling my story anyway, because sometimes we need to sit in the middle of the story without knowing the end. Sometimes it is braver to share the messy middle, without the redemption, the lesson, the part where it all starts to make sense. Sometimes we just need to sit in that tension and feel the lack of resolution: that hunger for the world to be put right; for death and disease to be no more; for God to be near; for every tear to be wiped from our eyes.
This is my story: I have cried. I have thrown spiritual tantrums. I have ignored God. I have submitted to God. I have yelled at God. I have begged Him to bless me.
I am not the paralysed man, now walking and leaping; I am the opposite. I am Jacob, the one who wrestles and struggles. I am walking through it all, but with a limp. My faith is bruised, but still I cling to Him.
Like Jacob, sometimes you wrestle with God all night, and all He gives you is a limp and a new name. I am learning to call it ‘blessing’.

(This post was initially published on Prodigal Magazine, and has been updated for publication here). 

[tweetit]”I have another story to tell: the lesser-told story…” – @Tanya_marlow [/tweetit]
[tweetit]”Sometimes we need to sit in the middle of the story without knowing the end.” @Tanya_Marlow[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”I have a story about being miraculously healed, but I also have one about not being healed.” @Tanya_Marlow[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”My faith is bruised, but still I cling to Him.” – @Tanya_Marlow – When God Doesn’t Heal:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”Sometimes it is braver to share the messy middle” – @Tanya_Marlow – When God Doesn’t Heal[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”I am Jacob, the one who wrestles and struggles.” – @Tanya_Marlow – When God Doesn’t Heal[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”The years go by…but the miracle doesn’t come.” – @Tanya_Marlow – When God Doesn’t Heal[/tweetit]

Over to you:

  • What is your relationship with the mystery of healing?
  • What lesser-told story are you carrying?

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41 Responses to When God Doesn’t Heal

  1. christina 19th October, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    dear Tanya! Thank you for being so honest and sharing the “middle part” of your story. If I would listen to it at a great conference I would be so moved, I would cry and give standig ovations- because you cling to God, in the midst of it all. You struggle, but you still believe HE is good -I can feel that in every post you write. That`s why I keep turning to this page, because you encourage me so much to walk on- even when it`s hard sometimes. Tanya, you are one of my heros (and no stage is big enough for your to share your story!). Love and God bless you!!! Christina

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Ah, lovely Christina! Thank you SO much for this! I’m so grateful that you keep coming back here – and for your encouragement.

  2. Karen 19th October, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    Dear Tanya,

    Greetings from a fellow ME messy-middler. 8 years of infectious-onset ME, with a recovery at the beginning and then a sudden relapse and gradual decline thereafter, to the current point of completely housebound. Thank you for sharing your experience, for having the courage to let it out for public viewing without dressing it up, pretending it’s wrapped in a bow. It does more for me than any of the hundreds of recovery stories. I don’t need hope, I’ve got it in spades. I don’t need inspiration, it’s everywhere. I do need to know that I’m not alone wobbling across this bridge with no rails. That it’s just as scary for people to do it with God as without.

    With love,

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I’m so sorry you’ve had such a scary journey with ME. I’m really really sorry to hear that it’s been one gradual decline and that you are completely housebound. I know how much is in those few words. It means a lot to me that you see in my words a way to not be quite so alone wobbling across the bridge with no rails (great description!) That’s what your comment does for me, too. thank you.

  3. Jamie Sugg 19th October, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for your words – you’ve described mine and so many others lives. Clinging onto hope, wrestling with unbelief and straining to see God in it all, yet time and time again God reveals Himself in so many ways in the small things of life. At the beginning of my journey with M.E., I wrote in my diary ‘I am a child of God’. That’s my identity, not the guy with M.E., not the guy who used to have a job and career, not the breadwinner or the provider for my family. Yesterday at church we were reminded once again that who we are is defined by God, not by the world, and He calls us a child of God. And that’s what pulls me through, drags me along and pushes me past each day this illness chips away at me. I am not healed, I am not ‘better’. But I am more content to rest in God and let each day be as it should be, without fear or condemnation that I am not contributing to society because I no longer have an economic value. I am a child of God.

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Wow – I’m blown away by all these comments. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this sucky illness, but it’s amazing to hear your thoughts on this, and I’m in admiration of your attitude. It’s so powerful to be from that starting position of ‘I am a child of God’. It is simultaneously humbling and exalting.

  4. Pam Smith 19th October, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    So true that, as Christians in a competitive culture, we are encouraged to celebrate the ‘miraculous healing’ and not the everyday story of faith which is a struggle in the middle of illness.

    I remember going to New Wine one year and begging God to heal me from anxiety and depression. Another year I was suffering from dreadful back pain and I asked for prayer for that as well. Possibly the most damaging talk I heard was one on the main stage by someone who had been healed ‘just like that’ from severe depression. I met someone afterwards who was really upset and questioning her faith because she hadn’t been similarly healed, despite asking.

    I wasn’t miraculously healed from depression or back pain – but I had important insights into how to handle the conditions that were affecting me so badly. I came to see this as another kind of healing, and not an inferior one either.

    Thank you for your blog, Tanya, you are always an inspiration!

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Thank you so much for writing this. I think it can be really hard to hear of other people who have been cured ‘just like that’. The best conferences seem to be those who acknowledge that these miracle stories – which deserve to be celebrated – are not the norm, and that it is not the person’s fault if they are not healed. I am personally really appreciative of all the wisdom and insights you have picked up along the way – ‘another kind of healing’ seems like a good description for all of that. Much love to you.

  5. Miriam 19th October, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    I have a similar story of 10 years with M.E. without healing despite so much prayer from so many people. That one short sentence contains so much grief & loss & sorrow & struggle & questioning.
    In fact just yesterday I asked my church elders to pray over me for healing and even though I tried to manage my expectations I didn’t realise how much I had hoped for a miracle until it didn’t happen! Once again I woke feeling utterly devastated that it seemed like nothing had changed. Yet as my heart shattered with disappointment and sorrow again, and as I sobbed and cried out to God in my pain & desperation this morning I reminded myself that His ways are so much higher than mine that I can’t even begin to understand what He is doing.
    God is good despite my circumstances.
    God is love despite how I feel.
    I remember that God WILL heal me in His time, whether that is in this life or whether I have to wait to get a new perfect body in the next life, a life without sorrow or tears!
    And I remind myself that really don’t I want His will for my life more than I want health & healing?

    And so I gather up my broken heart and I go on knowing that He can be trusted even when I can’t understand why I have to endure this pain & suffering. I am trusting that He will provide the strength to carry on and provide a way though even though I can’t see how to keep going. Its hard & I’m hurting but I am choosing to trust God today.

    PS I wanted to add that although you wrote that you can’t see the spiritual benefits of your suffering, at least one of the ways I see that God has used your suffering is to encourage the many readers of your blog & other writings. And please God, someday in heaven you & I will get to see all the reasons & benefits to our suffering.

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Lovely Miriam! We have so much in common, I see. I was moved to tears by your story – not just by the disappointment of hoping for healing and being crushed again, but more by your extreme courage. I see your courage in the way that you ask for healing and seek it, and trust in God when it doesn’t come. These are short words, but I know they carry so much in them. I’m praying for you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

  6. Nancy Wallace 19th October, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    I’m close to several people with a chronic illness that is not healed, so although I don’t share your experience I can try to understand a little of it. Thank you for this helpful honest post which may well prove a great blessing to others. I’ve also seen the harm that can be done by well-meaning Christians who act as if God is their pet magician who will produce miracles to order if only people pray in the ‘right way’ or have enough faith. I do believe that God heals but I don’t think that is necessarily the same thing as curing someone of a particular condition. After all the ultimate healing is death and resurrection isn’t it? I think one of the hardest challenges in life is learning to live with the questions that have no answers and that takes great courage and faith.

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. “one of the hardest challenges in life is learning to live with the questions that have no answers” – yes, this is really astute. Thanks so much for taking the time to understand others’ illness – I really appreciate it.

  7. Emilie 19th October, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Thank you, always, for your honesty. I told my pastor once I feel like endo is my punishment for an unknown offense, and God refuses to tell me what I did or lift the punishment. And most people, Christian or not, don’t know what to do with chronic illness. Cancer is a battle that can be won, but chronic illness doesn’t get rallying cries because people can’t rally indefinitely. Keep using your voice to shed light on this, because it needs to be shared.

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. I can totally relate to feeling like illness is a punishment from God, when you don’t know what you did. And definitely with the battle analogy (Did you ever read my old post, ‘I am not heroic’?) Thanks so much for cheering me on.

  8. David Bridger 19th October, 2015 at 8:50 am #

    Me to. Almost exactly, word for word what you’ve said here.

    Except that I would never consider talking to or even attending a Christian conference. Had churchgoing beaten out of me by the band of evangelistic power healers who were busy taking over our church and wanted me to be their poster boy.

    So now I’m a hermit, religion-wise, and it feels right. Really right. Even good, on good days. I suppose I could consider that to be a blessing. I dunno.

    I suppose God knows. Probably.

    • Tanya 9th November, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – these past two weeks have been crazy. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I’m so sorry that you were chased out of church by people who were pressurising you to be healed. I’m praying that God meets you where you’re at, and I’m really glad to hear that it feels right for you. (But I’m still sorry that you had to leave a local community of Christians, though I understand why.)

      • David Bridger 10th November, 2015 at 10:30 am #

        Thanks for your prayers, Tanya. I’m praying for you too.

        Don’t be sad and sorry about those people making church an unwelcone place for me, though. It all happened between ten and twelve years ago and it hasn’t hurt me or even ruffled my feathers for a very long time now.

        It’s okay. Really. I’m where God’s put me. I’m okay with him, and he’s okay with me.

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