In John 9, Jesus encounters a man who has been blind since birth. He spits in the clay, wipes it onto the man’s eyes, and instructs him to wash off in the river. The man returns with his eyesight fully restored, a certain miracle to all who have known this man his whole life. They almost didn’t believe it was the same man! They wrote him off as a beggar, as an outcast. The man was quick to tell everyone that it was Jesus who helped him see again.
I personally think about the healing stories in the Bible often, sometimes even placing my name in the stories to pray for my own healing. It seems to be a theme in my life that I am continuously “blind” to seeing God’s presence in my life. I’m quick to be angry that I don’t hear His voice or feel His presence. I get discouraged in prayer because I don’t receive answers. I don’t trust that God plays a part in what happens to me.
Knowing that, it has been quite the contrast in my professional life as I provide Outpatient Spiritual Care to patients in rural Cincinnati. I call patients that deal with chronic illness, grief and loss, isolation, or spiritual distress. My goal is to actively listen to what they are experiencing, to help them explore what gives their life meaning, to identify who is their support system, and to acknowledge what brings them hope and peace in difficult times. It has been “eye-opening” to hear people who are homebound, out of work, terminally ill, isolated from their family and friends and in deep physical pain immediately tell me how God has been so good to them. Even if it takes a few calls, almost every patient is quick to express gratitude for our conversation and tell me all the ways that they’re doing well: God woke them up, they’re able to breathe a little better today, a group of deer was outside their window today. Their eyes have been opened to see God’s abundant presence and providence. Though their bodies are sick, their hearts are healed by the hope they find in God.
I had one patient especially thank me after a phone call for giving her space to just talk. “I’ve grown up in this small town with the same people my entire life; nobody has ever asked me to tell my story before.” Her story wasn’t anything “miraculous” or headline-worthy, but it was rich in love for God and love from God. Her story was sacred. Some of these patients are even like the blind man, seen as an outcast or a beggar but quick to tell others about how God saved them. Their stories are sacred. I’ve learned more than I’ve taught, simply by asking “ordinary people” to tell me about their extraordinary life.
When the crowd of people asked Jesus why the man was born blind, if it was his sins or his parents’ sins, Jesus told them, “he was born blind so that God’s works may be revealed in him”. These phone calls and conversations have pushed me to look at my life through a new lens: where is God in all of this? If a patient with heart failure and COPD can find hope in her stumbling blocks, what might God be doing with mine? In each of these sacred stories that I’ve been gifted with this year, God’s works have been revealed to me. I’ve seen how someone can use their pain to trust God and thank Him for the smaller blessings.
Maureen Kelly: Cincinnati