Today, I have undertaken my last ministerial duties before I start that sabbatical I keep talking about. I attended a meeting this morning of the Essex Christian Healing Trust, on which I sit as the official Methodist representative.
Before our mercifully brief AGM, we had an hour and a half trailing a major conference to be held on 4th April at Chelmsford Cathedral, where there will be various workshops on the healing ministry in various forms. A couple of our guest speakers were present to give us a flavour of their input on the day. One was my friend Anthony Rose, author of ‘Stranger On The Shore‘, an account of his struggle with emotional healing. The other was Paul Harcourt, vicar of All Saints Woodford Wells.
Paul is bringing a team to the conference to talk about their extensive practice of offering the healing ministry with the laying on of hands. His brief talk this morning was thoughtful. He talked about how many of us set off into something like the healing ministry with great enthusiasm and passion, but then disappointments set in. We have to be realistic about brokenness and the incompleteness of God’s kingdom, he said, referring not least to his own autistic son. But, he said, how many of us let the disappointments shape everything? They provide necessary colour and shade, and they qualify unremitting triumphalism. But should they be the determining factor in our understanding or interpretation?
And I just had a brief thought that the experience of disappointment doesn’t just affect an area like the healing ministry. Disappointments in all sorts of areas need handling carefully. We need them to inform a proper realism, but when they quench faith and we rewrite faith on a basis that we should expect little or nothing at all, then something has gone seriously wrong.
Does this resonate with you? Are there aspects of life and faith where disappointment has distorted faith instead of informing it? What do you think?
To pick up on healing issues, I have certainly encountered disappointments with capacity to distort faith. Most obviously, my wife’s sister died of cancer, aged 56, on Advent Sunday 2008. Her husband had been lost to colon cancer at 49, a few years earlier. It would be so easy to rail against God, not least for putting their 2 children, both under 25 through such torment. We certainly won’t know all the answers this side pof eternity. Such events can destroy faith or build it.
I can see capacity for disappointment to impact in many areas of life, such as family and relationships. Perhaps closest to me has been work issues which have come close to restricting my expectations in the way you seem to be asking. And in our own congregation, I feel God is challenging us to a bigger level of expectation, closeness to Him and commitment.
I am also reminded of 2 Cor 12 and Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Some seem sure this was something like subtle opposition to his preaching. Having studied the passage carefully prior t preaching from it 2 years ago, my feeling is that on balance of probabilities Paul faced a physical problem. But I concluded that the presence of possible ambiguity was to remind us not to focus on the specific thorn, but to guide us in how we respond to it. Does it crush us, or can we discover, by His grace, how to rise through it and in spite of it.
Thank you. That is most moving and honest. My wife would share some of your experiences, having been only 13 when her mother died from cancer at 42. I find it moving that she challenges me more to pray expectantly for people to be healed.
Disappointment can scar so much of life. Certainly that can happen in family and relationship issues, as you say. Society provides unrealistically high expectations. Sex is meant to be a combination of Hollywood and the Olympics. People have unattainable expectations of their spouse in marriage. And so on.
Careers are another area, as is educational attainment. Sometimes the two are linked. Those who are clever at school are fed a myth this will lead to all sorts of things in life. It rarely does.
Ministry, too, is something many enter with incredible expectations. The sense of God’s call is so strong, and with it we sometimes imbibe a near-apocalyptic vision of what God will do through us. Then reality hits.
For some, it can be what we label as the ‘mid-life crisis’, that time when the hard knocks have accumulated to a certain level. Then issues of faith and perseverance must come to the fore.
I probably should have said all that in the original post, but I dashed it off somewhat before bed last night!