The other day, after working out with weights, I dropped a dumbbell on myself. It slid off the storage unit where I had placed it and onto my left foot. The fall spanned about the length of my knee to my toes.
In the nanoseconds between my brain registering the event and me feeling the impact, I had just enough time to think: Boy, am I really (rude expletive).
Then the pain came. Lots of it. While I didn’t think I had broken any bones in my toes, the dumbbell had struck the soft tissue right beneath them. There could be no way that I had not done serious damage to myself. In the last five years I have suffered two other foot injuries, so I have good reason (at least in my mind) to know.
Hobbling downstairs to the kitchen, I fished out an ice pack from the freezer and pressed it against my throbbing foot. It helped numb the pain, but I believed that whatever damage had been done, was done. Ice wouldn’t reverse that. I’d probably wake up the next day with horrible bruising or swelling—or even some other injury that would send me back to the orthopedic practice I’ve been visiting all too often as a middle-ager. Sometimes it takes some time for the extent of the damage to surface. I’d see what tomorrow would bring.
Remarkably, my foot was more or less fine the next day. Tender to the touch, to be sure, but my movement was good and I hadn’t even developed a bruise.
As a rule, I am a catastrophic thinker, always assuming the worst will happen and then bracing for impact. I believe this doomsday outlook stems from a traumatic childhood, where the worst often did happen and there was nothing to do but endure it—often in secrecy. My father, who was the main source of my trauma, took care to maintain a “Christian” image on the outside, even as he abused me behind closed doors. As a family, we more or less fell in line with the gag order, although as an adolescent I dreamed (both literally and figuratively) of breaking my silence and broadcasting the truth of my father’s cruelty from the rooftops.
Now, however, as I wiggled my foot around in disbelief, the thought came to me:
Sometimes the worst doesn’t happen.
That thought was such a novelty that I immediately determined to search the Bible for some evidence to verify its truth. After all, a lot of crazy thoughts flit across my mind all day, and I desperately wanted this not to be one of them. I wanted to find something in Scripture that would allow me to keep, rather than toss, this pearl.
I remembered a story in Mark 5:25–34, in which a woman with a long history of illness is cured by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak as he passes through a crowd. Specifically, she had been hemorrhaging from her uterus for twelve years, an ailment that not only would have weakened her terribly, but also isolated her from others who would have deemed her ritually “unclean.” Notably, the text says that she had spent all she had on physicians—suffering much from their interventions—but had only grown worse. For some reason, the text does not tell us why, she becomes convinced that even indirect contact with Jesus will heal her. One fingertip upon his garment would do the trick. And it does: And immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction (5:29).
If anyone were to be justified in having catastrophic thinking, it would her. And yet her faith in Jesus is so strong that He actually feels the power it activates leaving his body and entering hers (5:30). “Who touched my garments?” he asks—a question which on its surface puzzles me. Is this a singular case of Jesus performing a miracle unknowingly? Passively? Or is something else going on?
Showing the kind of courage that must have carried her through multiple, unsuccessful medical procedures, the woman steps forward and tells the whole story, admitting that she has taken something precious from Jesus without asking (5:33). The narrator specifies that she does so with “fearing and trembling” as she falls at Jesus’ feet—a gesture of complete and utter submission to whatever comes next.
And what comes next is, in fact, more healing. Not only does the woman receive the unique honorific “Daughter,” Jesus publicly approves her bold use of faith to take what she needed from him. In essence, he restores her social standing as well as her physical body. “Your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed…” (5:34). In other words: the healing of your particular wound—which cannot be seen by outsiders—needs to be verified by a person with authority so that everyone can accept it. I publicly declare your private affliction to be a thing of the past. You are clean.
Over and over it turns in my head. The worst had been happening to this woman—increasingly so—for over a decade. When I try to imagine how physicians in her time might have treated her, I shudder. In my mind’s eye I see crude instruments, unsanitary conditions, humiliating moments with men, as she submitted herself to their close examination. Each time hoping this time would be it, would bring improvement. Only to discover, perhaps immediately, perhaps over days, that she was bleeding even more than before. How did she go on? How did she have room left in her heart for one more man purported to be a healer?
All I know is this: she did not let her past hold her back. The day she encountered Jesus was the day she showed up at the table and placed yet another bet—perhaps her last—laying it all on the line to stop her life from leaking out her body. It’s no wonder she went about it so anonymously. No doubt severely anemic, she may not have had the energy to fight the crowds and get Jesus’ attention. Just as severely discouraged, she may not have had the wherewithal to look one more healer in the face. A garment’s edge, a mere handful of fabric, might have been all she could handle after twelve years of hell.
Am I willing to do the same?
Can I look at those areas where I have suffered multiple injuries, multiple disappointments and failures, and decide I’m going to reach out my hand anyway?
Am I going to say: I don’t care what dark lessons the past has taught me, I’m here to receive something new from the One who already calls me “Daughter”?
Am I willing to acknowledge that perhaps I am more resilient than I dared hope? That I can go into the fray, take a punch, and come out intact? That heavy burdens might threaten to crush me, but I will not collapse?
The apostle Paul (someone with a stubborn thorn in his side, thank you) put it this way:
…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
(2 Corinthians 4:8–10).
No joke, how I want the faith that plagued-yet-persevering woman had.
Lord, grant me just a few more kernels of courage to give it one more try when I’m convinced, after long struggle, that all is lost.
Next time you see me take a hit, will You remind me that the worst does not always have to happen? Because I believe in that outcome quite devotedly. It’s not that I have no faith, I just pin it upon the wrong things.
Thank You for walking this earth, for offering Yourself for the taking so that I can reach toward You and be healed.
I want that healing. The full dimensions of it. And I want to share it with others, with Your help.
The worst doesn’t always happen. I thank You that I pray to One to whom it did, and Who came out on the other side in triumph.
Compassion for my doubt and affliction, power for my problems. That is what I have in You.
There are no words, so Thank You So Much and I Love You Back will have to do.
In Your precious Name,