Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
2 Kings 4:8-37
Two of our readings today focus on the theme of “bringing back what we believe is lost to us forever”– the son of the Shunammite woman, and Saul/Paul’s eyesight.
I think the desire for restoration–both for ourselves and for those we love–is one of the deepest desires in the human brain. All it takes is a quick online search of phrases like, “Medical miracle brought back from the dead,” or “Missing child found alive,” to see how popular these sorts of stories are in the news.
What we also see in these stories is that these restorations are not solo operations. Our own efforts are generally insufficient, and the perils and unintended consequences of going at the restoration business alone are a rich theme in literature, whether it’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, or H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator. The message in these sorts of works is “Yeah, you might be able to bring them back on your own, but they don’t come back quite the same, and things are worse than if you’d just left them dead.”
Many times, the restoration stories of the Bible involve God working through others–Elisha lying on the son of the Shunammite woman, Ananias laying hands on Saul–and a humility derived in powerlessness sensed both in the one desiring healing and the healer. The Shunammite woman had no other options. Elisha had to be feeling dicey about the whole situation, because his initial plan (sending Gehazi with his staff to lay on the son’s face) didn’t work. Saul is sitting around Damascus, so depressed he’s not eating or drinking. Ananias thinks healing the chief oppressor and persecutor of the early Christians is a really bad idea, but does it anyway because he hears the voice of the Lord willing it. In short, it’s probably when we think we know how to “fix” people that gets us in the most trouble.
Our Gospel reading today also reminds us that restoration comes at a price–the giving away of our selves to the point that seems dangerous. Two coats is not exactly a huge wardrobe–but we are told to give one away, if that’s what we have. Likewise, we’re instructed that if we have more food than we can eat, to share what we can’t. We can’t accomplish this without resentment unless one thing happens inside of us–that we come to a place where we realize what we have is enough. If we don’t think we have enough, and we give it away, we will begin to question the motives of the other person. “Why are you taking my food instead of getting a job and earning your food?” “Why didn’t you think ahead when you had some money and get a coat when they were on sale in the late spring?”
Many of us who went into the “healing professions” sat in front of an admissions interviewer and said that we wanted to help people, we wanted to heal them, we wanted to “make them better.” Somewhere down the line in our careers, if we are in a place of wisdom, we learned that we don’t make anyone better ourselves–we’re merely the conduit for a healing that doesn’t belong to us, and those who have been healed don’t belong to us either. If not, we’re filled with disappointments, resentments, and anger–often misplaced resentment and anger, at that.
Our life stories are often full of “restoration stories that didn’t happen”–those times that the outcome of our desire for restoration for ourselves or others didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. If we are wise, we realize what’s been taken from us was never ours to begin with. If we’re not, we feel used and exploited. We fear we’ll look like that poor tree in The Giving Tree, giving away bits and pieces of ourselves while the recipient just takes and takes until we’re finally a dead stump of ourselves.
God calls us into an intricate balance of give and take, where we freely give AND freely accept. It starts when we realize who we are is enough for God, and knowing a fuller picture of what really is “enough” in our lives.
When is a time your best efforts to “fix” someone became a macabre “reanimation story” with a messy outcome? When is a time you recognized your own powerlessness enough to accept the help of others?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid