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Ministry Without Miracles

Ministry Without MiraclesA friend recently recounted to me how a member of his stake had given tearful testimony about how she was miraculous saved from a serious injury due to divine intervention. He wondered why the Lord saved her and not so many others.

Currently one of the women I visit teach is working through the long recovery (with medication and therapy) after surgery for adhesive capsulitis (or “frozen shoulder”).

About five years ago, I also suffered from frozen shoulder. It is one of the most painful, debilitating things I have experienced. Wikipedia describes it thusly:

The normal course of a frozen shoulder has been described as having three stages:

  • Stage one: The “freezing” or painful stage, which may last from six weeks to nine months, and in which the patient has a slow onset of pain. As the pain worsens, the shoulder loses motion.
  • Stage two: The “frozen” or adhesive stage is marked by a slow improvement in pain but the stiffness remains. This stage generally lasts from four to nine months.
  • Stage three: The “thawing” or recovery, when shoulder motion slowly returns toward normal. This generally lasts from 5 to 26 months.

When this occurred, my youngest son was still a toddler and I had six kids and a home to care for. Even the slightest movement of my left arm caused excruciating pain, which made walking, dressing, showering, holding child, lifting, carrying — anything — unbearable. I was beside myself, not just due to the incredible pain, but the fact that the pain literally prevented me from moving or doing anything useful.

Now for the rub.

After a number of weeks of doctors appointments, medications, X-rays, etc., my husband gave me a blessing and I was completely, almost instantaneously healed. 

I wasn’t healed because I have incredible faith, because I’m super righteous, because I have more trials than anyone else, or even because my husband has an unusual gift of healing. Truth is, I have no idea why I was healed. I do know it was God’s power, but I do not know why — that particular time — it was offered to me.

It’s not that I feel guilty for being healed. There are plenty of times in my life when I wasn’t the one with the miracle. But I don’t know how to reconcile that healing with my friend’s lack of healing. More to the point, I don’t know how in the world to minister to her.

If you’ve had an unusual or misunderstood condition,  you know that it doesn’t garner the same sympathy or show of support as something more well known, even though it may be more incapacitating. But since I’d experienced this condition, I knew how awful it really is and wanted to let her know I

When I found out what she was dealing with, I blurted out, “Oh, no! I had that many years ago. That’s horrible!”

Unfortunately that led to what should have been obvious. She asked me how I recovered.

Ugh.

Initially I diverted the conversation to find out what she was doing and how it was helping, but this last week she asked me directly again. I confessed — somewhat apologetically — that I had been cured by a blessing.

How do we acknowledge God’s hand in our lives appropriately? How do we do so without harming those who have different answers to prayers — or seem to have no answer at all? How do we help someone struggle through a difficulty that we did not have to endure?

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Amy Lockhart March 26, 2013, 6:50 pm

    As someone who is dealing with this on a slightly different level I will say this; be honest and don’t apologize for your miracles. I have found strength in the experiences of others especially when they don’t mirror mine. It helps me to be able to step outside the bounds of my own trials and analyze another’s. It provides hope in those times when hope is lost because whatever is not working for you. Seeing the miracles of others helps keep the possibility alive and can help you find answers you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

    Our youngest was born with a disease. He has had multiple blessings from different people and all have promised complete healing. Our Branch fasted for him when he was just days old. You could say there has been an outpouring of opportunities for “the miracle”. That was over two years ago. I know it will happen and in the mean time I am learning a lot about patience, perseverance, faith, hope, and a whole lot else.

    Miracles come in all shapes and sizes as well as timelines. I can’t explain why. What has helped me is people willing to listen. I mean really listen, not just the lip service “how are you” in passing questions.

    Obviously tact is appreciated when sharing one’s own experiences and assuming the best of another is essential. We have heard things such as, “If you had enough faith he would be healed by now.” and “Our Branch fast worked, the Lord is just waiting for your faith.” Perhaps the best is this one, “He’s fine, it’s just an excuse now.” Lovely sentiments.

    Fishing expeditions are no fun either. Expectations are hurtful and harmful. We tend, whether intentional or not, to place expectations on each other. In times of difficulty it can be especially trying to dig out from under all the expectations. Leaving the church becomes a welcome respite when seen as the only way to relieve such pressure. This would fall under the charity aspect of it all I suppose.

    Point being, as long as you share appropriately and with charity your experiences can offer strength and encouragement to others. It seems obvious by the tone of your post that she is blessed to have you in her life and quite possibly the Lord had a hand in that :)
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Cultural PressureMy Profile

  • Oregonian March 26, 2013, 10:39 pm

    sometimes telling your miracles makes others feel bad and sometimes it encourages them. i dont really know the answer.

  • MB March 27, 2013, 7:54 am

    I think that part of the answer lies in considering before you speak. Not every question that would lead to a discussion of a miracle needs to be answered in detail if you sense that the answer would not be helpful. Demurring with a comment that it’s a rather personal matter that you’d rather not discuss right then but that you are grateful for the recovery/blessing/solution that happened is always a reasonable response. That, followed by a question to your questioner, can move the conversation along to other helpful interchange.

    I think another part of the answer (and this relates to your story of testimony bearing in your first paragraph) lies in what we say when we bear testimony. In October 2005 Jay Jensen (member of the 70)’s article about bearing testimony was published in the Ensign. I recommend it. He wrote about, among other things, another problematic result that comes when one uses the relating of a miraculous experience as a testimony and offered some guidelines on how bear testimony in ways that avoid such pitfalls. The list of guidelines he offers and the examples of testimony bearing by Jesus and others that he cites are worth the read.

  • pardonmoi March 27, 2013, 8:08 am

    I think it’s OK to tell the truth as long as you do it kindly.

  • partone March 28, 2013, 1:28 am

    You probably couldn’t avoid this unless you just pretended you didn’t have it. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure she understands!

  • Angie Gardner March 29, 2013, 11:06 am

    This topic is kind of hard for me too. I have had/seen miraculous healings (usually with a priesthood blessing but sometimes seemingly spontaneously) and have also seen cases where blessings are given repeatedly and go a different direction. It’s hard to understand the whole God’s will thing and why some people are healed and others not.

    I had a conversation just yesterday with someone in my ward who is struggling with her health. She has tried a lot of different things, including priesthood blessings, but still has more bad days than good. There was a time about 10 years ago where I suffered similar ailments and I just kind of got better. She asked me yesterday what I did exactly and it was really kind of awkward to say, “nothing really…it just kind of went away.” I don’t remember getting a priesthood blessing at the time (although I should have), but I did pray about it a lot. I did see doctors and one finally seemed to helped me a bit by adjusting some medication, but I really didn’t do anything drastic – but did experience a drastic change in the way I felt. I have no idea why I was blessed that way and she isn’t even though she is trying a lot harder than I ever did.

    These things are tough.

  • jennycherie April 1, 2013, 9:02 am

    I think this is an important lesson for us to learn! Life is not the same for all of us and life is not ‘fair’ as we often want it to be. I think of how often one of my children is upset when they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Why did you give ____ to ___ but not to me? I think this is a parallel situation. Why does our Heavenly Father do ___ for ___ but not for me? I think we have to be able to accept His will and trust in His will and His timing. I may be wrong, but I think that is the lesson.

    Several years back, one of my friends had a heart attack. We were serving in RS together and her husband was in the bishopric at the time, I believe. Their two sons were both serving missions at the time. They have *such* a lovely family and she was the epitome of a virtuous woman -kind, humble, beautiful inside and out. After her heart attack, she was on life support for a short time. I remember her husband saying to me, “All I need is one little miracle, and I know He can do it. He can raise people from the dead and heal people, turn water into wine. All I need is one little miracle.” He was in such despair, and yet he recognized SO clearly that it was not God’s will because it wasn’t happening. All I can think, in retrospect, was that she was ready. She was overflowing with goodness and she was ready to go on and serve on the other side of the veil.

    Alison, you were healed by a blessing in this instance of adhesive capsulitis. But there are other times when you prayed for something and had to wait longer or received a no. You can understand this woman’s struggle, even though your struggle with the same issue ended differently. Your experience with other struggles will help you understand her now and your experience with healing may also offer her hope. And, at times, our experiences may not be enough to help someone who is not ready or open to feeling better about their situation.

    We talked about this recently in a Relief Society lesson on the woman with the issue of blood. We hear about her story, already knowing the miraculous outcome, but she suffered for YEARS with a condition that made her unclean under Mosaic law. I don’t understand a lot about Mosaic law, but it seems to me that, not only did she suffer from constant bleeding (she was surely weak and anemic after dealing with this for years and without the modern miracles of Always and Tampax), but everyone must have known about it. If she was unclean, she had to be kept apart. If she had the faith to be healed by touching the Master’s robe, she must have been praying mightily about this for a long time. Several of our sisters shared that they felt two purposes in their own illnesses or injuries – learning and growth for themselves, and learning and growth to help others.

    So, I think, when I am suffering and feeling like, “WHY ME?,” I have to remind myself that my trials are my own and are not a sign that God does not care or notice me. When I am trying to help someone else, I have to cloak everything I say in empathy and understanding and try to be sensitive to whether the person who is suffering needs comfort or solutions.
    jennycherie recently posted…Essentil Oils, Part Three: I Hate You Then I Love YouMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith April 1, 2013, 11:16 am

    Amy, thanks.

    About 14 years ago a dear friend of ours died of brain cancer. He was the bishop when diagnosed. I cannot tell you how many people in our stake told his wife — one of my best friends in Florida — “you just need more faith.” Augh! Of all the nerve! Of all the naiveté! Of all the idiocy!

    I don’t think she ever begrudged anyone else’s miracles, but the assumption that God intended one for their family and it would happen if the were just good enough was so offensive.

    For fun, here is a photo of Robes’ and Kim’s three kids at the time of his death. And here they are today. Photos are from Robes’ sister’s blog. You might remember Ellen as the second place finisher in our blogging contest a few years ago. :) She is a wonderful woman.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…100DC Day 90: Flip the SwitchMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith April 1, 2013, 11:23 am

    MB, good input. I was able to divert the conversation the first time. The second very direct request for info would have been very awkward— particularly given my lack of ever demurring on anything — had I not answered. So I just tried to be brief about it. And I did mention that is was unusual for me to have miraculous healings. :/

    Thanks for the reference. Here’s a link to Bearing Testimony for anyone else who’d like to read it.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Today’s News: House FireMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith April 1, 2013, 11:29 am

    Angie Gardner:

    It’s hard to understand the whole God’s will thing and why some people are healed and others not.

    Amen! In fact, it’s hard for me to understand the efficacy of prayer/blessings, given the seemingly random nature of healings.

    jennycherie, yours is the only lesson that makes sense to me.

    Alison, you were healed by a blessing in this instance of adhesive capsulitis. But there are other times when you prayed for something and had to wait longer or received a no. You can understand this woman’s struggle, even though your struggle with the same issue ended differently. Your experience with other struggles will help you understand her now and your experience with healing may also offer her hope. And, at times, our experiences may not be enough to help someone who is not ready or open to feeling better about their situation.

    That was beautiful and insightful. Thank you! :)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…100DC Day 91: Change and ConsequenceMy Profile

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