Monday, July 25, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 8: Prayer

Previously on Let's Talk About Faith:  Introduction / Pre-Church / Confirmation / Saved / Jump / Healing / Mission /

Ever since I had gone to the healing and deliverance conference in 2001, people really wanted to pray for my physical healing.

It was mentioned beforehand, but it seemed to reach new heights.  I got approached in the halls of my university by a fellow classmate who wanted to pray for my healing.  I allowed it, not yet comfortable with saying no.  When this didn’t work, the student didn’t make me feel guilty or wrong, and in fact, we formed a small friendship and I went to church with him a few times.

Once I left college, though, things picked up again.  Being home meant being back at The Edge.  I was dealing with many personal issues at the time, and I often didn’t want to leave the house to go to church.  It was fall, and that meant the coming of winter, and my ever-present anniversary reaction to nearly losing my sister.  At the time I wrote:

Now I need prayer for a whole other set of issues - ones that, most likely, won’t be touched on.”

There was one night where Liam would not take no for an answer, back in 2003.  He gently prodded and prodded until I agreed to go to a prayer and intercession meeting at The Edge.

FAITH AND DISTRACTION:

The meeting itself was not particularly memorable for me, but it was the time afterward where we worshipped that stuck in my mind.  I had been seated at the end of a pew to one side of the sanctuary, and when the music started, I stood up. I’m short enough that had I remained seated, my view of the song lyrics would have been completely blocked by taller people.

I lost myself in singing and worshipping, feeling lighter and happier than I had in months when a voice interrupted me and someone grabbed my hand:

“I just wanted you to know that God told me that all your prayers are going to be answered.  You’re going to dance one day.”

She was happy.  Smiling.  Clearly well-meaning.  I had been raised to be polite.

“...Thank you…” I said hesitantly, just wanting her to go on her way.  I knew if God really was speaking to her, He would have likely shared with her the darkness that had existed over my life for the past months and years.  She might have said:

“All your prayers are going to be answered, and you won’t be afraid of losing those closest to you anymore.”

“All your prayers will be answered and you won’t feel horrible about yourself.”

“All your prayers will be answered because you will know you are enough just as you are.”

I tried to go back to worshipping, but I felt tense.  Watched.  And, frankly, more than a little offended.  It seemed that every time I attended an event like this, someone somewhere was convinced that all my hopes and dreams rode on being healed physically.

In spite of encountering people like this woman many times over the years, I had begun to nurture a small amount of respect for myself.  A small amount of love.  It was for all of me, CP included.  But it was hard to keep when so many who were older and held more authority said things that made me feel inferior.   So I moved.  I always felt more free in the open floor space at the front of the sanctuary, not confined to the area where pews blocked me.  So I walked up there, in an effort to hide in plain sight.  If she looked for me again in the pews, I wouldn’t be there.  I would be up front dancing.

I didn’t need that woman’s pity-prayers.  I could dance already, thanks very much.

It was what I was doing when I heard her voice again:

“Can you walk without your crutches?”

“No,” I said tersely, my body tense.

“Not at all?” she pressed, incredulous.  “Not even if I hold your hands?”

“No.”

I was done being nice.  And I was so relieved when she walked away.

Again, I tried to refocus.

Before I knew it she was back a third time.  I think she could see I had lost patience with her because she hurried to say what she had to say:

“I just wanted to tell you that God loves you just the way you are and that you don’t have to do anything.”

I wanted to scream at her, “I KNOW THAT.  WHY DON’T YOU?”

In turned out that after her second time harassing me about how mobile I was without my mobility aids, she had spoken to Liam.  Told him that she had been trying to pray for me, I guess, and that I seemed not to want it.  Liam, having been at the healing conference two years previously, and having seen its disastrous impacts on me, cautioned her.  He told her (you guessed it) that God loved me the way I was and I didn’t have to do anything to earn it.

After that, I was done.  I was angry.  I was hurt.  All I wanted was to be able to do what everyone else there was freely doing: praying and worshipping God in peace.  I wanted to be left alone.  I wanted to be respected.  But instead, I felt like I could not show my face at church events because I would be bombarded by people who wanted to make a spectacle of me, heal me or tell me how much I “inspired” them.

There was usually an open door in the sanctuary that led outside.  Though it was dark out, and not the warmest, I pressed my back against the outside of the building and looked up at the sky just trying to breathe.  Just trying to be.  To rekindle that little bit of self-love I had managed to ignite in the face of so many voices telling me the opposite.

FAITH AND REFUSAL:

Six months later, I was at another church where Liam’s Christian band was leading worship.  A sign greeted me when I got there, informing me that the elevator was out of order.  There was someone already aware and working to fix the problem.  However, the sanctuary was downstairs.  I didn’t know how long the repairs would take.  And so, I turned to the flight of stairs.

I was descending the steps more slowly than usual, because they were unfamiliar and I didn’t want to lose my footing and fall.  A friend was at my side, which was a nice bit of reassurance.  It just so happened that halfway down, on the landing between the two flights of stairs, there was a Bible study going on.

I tried to proceed as quietly as possible, not talking or drawing any extra attention to myself.  Just as I got to the landing between the two flights of stairs, the conversation completely stopped.  The guy leading the Bible study stared hard at me and said, in an accusatory tone, “You know, there’s an elevator.”

“I know.  It’s out of order.”

“Well, someone’s fixing it.”

“I know that.”

“Well, why don’t you wait for him to fix it?”

“Because I can go down the stairs.”

I kept my voice quiet, and my tone respectful of this stranger.  He stared at me until I started down the second flight of stairs.  The silence was obvious behind me, but once I was out of sight, I heard him clearly, telling his group:

“I’m sorry about that.”

I tried to put the instance out of my mind and instead focused on the worship that was starting.  I knew right away that I wanted to stand up and worship.  As long as there was a chair behind me, I could do it with no problems.  As long as I stood still, I could be on my feet, with no support from anything.  It was a challenge, but I could do it, and I loved doing it.  Being able to both stand and raise my hands during worship felt so freeing.  So, that’s what I was doing, second row from the front, so there was a chair to grab if I needed to catch my balance.  I was right by the aisle, so I could easily come and go, without disrupting many people.

Then, the pastor started talking about healing.

I panicked, remembering the healing and deliverance conference three years ago.  I kept standing, thinking this was the way I would seem the most unobtrusive.  I hoped no one would see my crutches lying by my feet or even remember that I had them.  Despite all of this, I felt that my being there at all was drawing unwanted attention.

I had not moved.  I had not gone forward.  I had not raised a hand to signal anyone over to me, but just like that, two women had materialized.  A younger woman on one side of me, and an older one on the other side.

I was trapped.

The older woman started praying for me.

“It actually really bothers me when people come to pray for me and automatically pray for the obvious...my legs.  There are other things going on in my life.  It’s frustrating that in church, I’m only something to fix.”  I told the younger woman sitting beside me.

“What else do you need prayer for?” she asked, seeming shocked.

But I held back.  She was a total stranger.  I had never met her before.  Not the time to admit to an array of mental health issues.

She led me through a rote prayer, asking me to repeat after her.  It all felt very weird.

At the same time, the older woman asked, “Can I pray for your legs?”

A man approached then, having overheard.  He whipped the chair in front of me out of the way, so that he would have better access to me and my legs.

I knew what was coming.  I knew they’d surround me.  People I didn’t know would touch my legs.  They’d pray and their prayers would get louder and louder, and then they’d give up.

And it would be on me.

[Image is: A black and white photo of my crutches on the ground and my legs and feet.  A hand is hovering above, ready to descend on my legs in prayer.  Photo credit: My sis.]


Before they could touch me, and for one of the first times in my life, I said, “No.  Not right now.”

They were totally shocked.

I picked up my crutches and walked away.

As this was an unfamiliar part of town, I didn’t feel comfortable standing outside, so I hid out in the bathroom for the rest of the message.  I knew the only reason I was not being accosted was that I locked myself in.  I felt angry and sad that again, I could not exist in a space that was supposed to feel safe.  I didn’t know why similar things just kept happening, no matter where I was.  It happened over and over, at The Edge and other churches.  People basically forcing themselves on me because they were so intent to see God heal me.

It felt beyond scary.  It made me panic.  Remove myself from situations.  Experiencing this one time would have been more than enough.  Would have been damaging enough.  I naively thought, though, if I didn’t “ask for it,” it would stop.  But it had been years, and it wasn’t stopping.

Outside the door, people I knew were getting prayer.  Friends were getting prayer.  And I wanted that for them.  I wanted to be free to go up to the front of the room and join in prayer for them.  Instead, I was paralyzed by anxiety.   I knew that by simply existing, I was an eyesore to be appraised and repaired.

FAITH TO BE A COMFORTER:

I still remember flipping through the Bible on my own time and stumbling upon Isaiah 40:1.  The moment I first read the passage, I knew it was my calling.  People at The Edge called such things their “life verse.”

Mine read: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

When I first came to The Edge, Liam had called me a prayer warrior.  It looked to him like I was drawn to pray for many people.  In reality, though, I had been drawn by their distress.  I laid a hand on their backs not to fix what was wrong but to let them know someone was behind them.  Someone was with them.  Someone saw their tears.  Someone knew they were hurting.  Someone cared.  I wanted to comfort them in their time of need.  I was too familiar with how it felt to go through dark times essentially alone and I wanted to extend that support to others.

Perhaps, this is why my experience with receiving prayer has nearly always felt like the opposite of love.  My mind and my heart always equated prayer with acts of comfort and support.

And frankly, there was nothing comforting in being told that I was a distraction, or that I was broken.

I was meant to exist the way God made me.  Disability included.

***

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5 comments:

  1. Wow. This post gave me so many feeeelinggs and now it's past 1 in the morning and I am sitting here just BEING, just in awe of your ability be introspective and reflective and insightful about such difficult and complex experiences.

    I love when you suggested alternative, more accurate versions of what that woman might have said had she really heard the voice of God...because you are so right - so many people look at us and only feel pity...and they only focus on our disability, assuming that it must be the biggest "problem" in our life. When I first read this part, it evoked a memory for me that I just couldn't seem to shake, and I couldn't figure out why it brought that particular moment to mind, because at first glance they are seemingly unrelated. -- I was walking to class a couple of years ago, and a guy I didn't know at all stopped me and said, "WOW. WOW YOU ARE WALKING WITHOUT YOUR CRUTCHES!!!" I was confused. I had used crutches in high school but never in college, and I (politely) told him so. He persisted, "No, last week I saw you using crutches!!" (Um - no? Why would I lie about that? I didn't know what to say so I just sort of stared at him in confusion.) AND THEN HE REALIZED, and uncomfortable comprehension dawned on his face. "Ohhh....ohh I was thinking of the other person who has....who has a disability" - and he bolted. The entire encounter was really unsettling for me, because I knew exactly who he was referring to (we are friends), and she and I look absolutely NOTHING alike. The only thing we have in common (appearance-wise) is that we both have a CP-gait....so to me, this was concrete proof that he had only seen our disabilities, to the extent that he couldn't even tell us apart - to him, we were one and the same.

    Sorry for that long-winded tangent - but I think why it came to mind is that this guy wasn't so different from that woman in your church (and later, the people who surrounded you) - it was almost inconceivable to them that someone could be MORE than their disability...and they placed SO much emphasis on walking without crutches!

    Even still, your situation (re: this woman and faith and healing) is much more complex, because that woman had the pity and the whole "disability makes you inferior" train of thought. I am so glad that you had the awareness and strength to remove yourself from that situation and to seek solace outside, to fight to keep that love for yourself, inclusive of your CP.

    UGH. THAT MAN. "I'm sorry about that." WHAT. This part made me ANGRY. He so badly needed a "WHAT WOULD JESUS DO" wakeup call - because the way he handled that situation was completely out of line. IN FACT, he needn't have handled the situation at all, because it was none of his business that you were walking down the stairs!!! Side note, it really bothers me when people insist that I use the elevator when I'm using the stairs - I know that (unlike this man you speak of) they're typically well-meaning, but I wish they'd just let me be and trust that I am capable of making my own choices!

    I LOVE that you stood up for yourself to those women and when they surrounded you (AGAIN, completely out of line!). It must take so much strength to get up and walk away from a situation like that - but I'm not altogether surprised that you did, because you are a person with a lot of strength.

    And I love the final two sentences of this post. God never meant for you to be repaired or fixed or healed - because you are perfect just the way He made you. You are not broken, you just have CP. <3

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    1. Oh my goodness! That story with the boy who mistook you for another girl simply because of your gait is so maddening! I feel for you and I hope they type of thing doesn't happen too often, but as someone who also has CP, I know that people can be incredibly superficial. They only see our bodies and as Tonia and you both mentioned, it hurts deeply. People really need to be cognizant about their words because words have the potential to cause so much pain, but if used carefully, they can be uplifting as well. That boy should have kept his mouth shut.

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    2. You're so right - people can be SO superficial. I really wish he kept his mouth shut, too - and I think, as soon as he realized his error, HE probably wished he kept his mouth shut! Thanks for "getting" it. :)

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    3. Of course! :) I read your blog and I know I can't "get" everything you've been through because we have different types of CP (I have extremely mild hemiplegia) and different experiences, but I learned when I was very young that people are very shallow, so I feel you there. :)

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  2. Wow, how awkward....

    I can see how reading about that first woman conjured the memory of that guy on your college campus. Disability truly IS all they see. And it feels dehumanizing especially when there is zero physical resemblance aside from gait.

    I didn't know stair-harrassers were a thing! I thought I was the only one! And I didn't include this part in the post but after that happened with the guy and the two ladies, I was on the way somewhere with a girl from Bible study and told her about what happened... She called me paranoid and said THEY WERE JUST BEING NICE and then she said I was "settling" (but insisted she did not mean "settling for physical healing" but some other obscure way.

    It's honestly kind of horrifying to walk away in those situations because as we've talked about - you just don't know what people will do. Based on the lady six months previously, though, I knew that I had to take action or they would not stop. Not until I made it physically impossible for them to pursue me.

    As always, thank you so much for reading. For understanding. For letting me know your thoughts. I think it's so important to be able to talk about these things and not leave them buried. Because it's not okay.

    Because we are enough.

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