The difficult freedom of healing

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Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

Years ago I read the memoir of an atheist writer I admired who, when facing a serious illness, humbly called on God for help. His experience left quite an impression.

I no longer have that book to offer a quote. But the wordless memory of that experience became relevant this year.

Many things come to upset and challenge us in life. But I have to say there’s nothing scarier than physical unwellness. Suddenly, that strong and reliable “I” we count on to get through whatever crisis shows up like a drunk stranger instead of a philosopher, doctor and sage.

When I became unwell, all thoughts and wishes gained a single, sharp focus: get better. And I don’t mean just managing better, I mean healing.

Which, as we all know, involves a lot of effort and patience. And, as it happens, sometimes effort and patience start to falter. Or, in some other ways, are simply not enough.

Enter God.

I couldn’t tell you exactly who or what God is to me, except to say I came to understand that moment when the atheist writer prayed in a very different way. I would describe it as a moment when one is forced to become completely honest with oneself.

In my religious tradition, there’s a prayer that’s supposed to lead to the granting of any wish. I was so eager to find out what it was, initially imagining how my own healing was going to miraculously and immediately manifest.

And then I read the prayer. At first glance, it has nothing to do with the one who prays or the wish.

“Lord, turn all my enemies towards goodness and faith. Amen.”

What?

I don’t have enemies. What about my wish for healing?

Metaphors and important lessons are sometimes initially lost on the most sincere of fools, bless our hearts.

Turns out there’s a unique intimacy that develops as we go through a significant healing process. With who we are, with life in general, with the divine. With everything that is within us and surrounds us.

And healing is freedom like no other freedom. But it’s a difficult one to earn. Not only because of all the effort and willpower necessary for recovery from the illness itself, but mainly because of the complete honesty required.

Illness is a complex phenomenon. It disrupts everything. And if it’s significant enough, it demands that we examine everything in our lives. Like a spring cleaning. All windows and doors need to open, fresh air needs to come in, broken things need to go out. And why not, a fresh coat of paint, a thorough scrubbing of floors, some new pieces of furniture, and of course, fresh flowers.

It took many days for me to start understanding the prayer I was repeating with not a small measure of desperation. To kneel and face the many enemies that needed taming.

What a surprise to learn, in such a harsh way, the most beautiful of lessons. That there is so much room to learn how to love enough so that we can do some difficult, healthy things.

Such as fully facing our flaws and mistakes, that petty and also glorious, true heart with its weakness, guilt, selfishness and shame, and then realizing how it redeems itself through a simple confession – which is nothing more than looking in the mirror with generous eyes.

Such as forgiving, and admitting how hard it is to forgive – ourselves, along with everyone and everything who hurt us since forever.

Such as embracing the illness without resentment or anger, and opening the door so it can finally leave.

Such as accepting that we can’t control everything, and letting go while allowing a smile as often as possible. Which also means awakening the courage to keep going, to be silly, to be grateful for little things.

And last but not least, starting to get used to the idea of taking leaps of faith.

To my surprise once again, when healing finally started to take over, the prayer became even more relevant and necessary.

Lord, turn all my enemies towards goodness and faith. Amen.”

Indeed.

PS. And then, there is the humor of Voltaire’s prayer:

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

Because healing is also a lesson in lightness and laughter.

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