Tokah is a longtime iMonk who was diagnosed with a disease that should have–taken her life—and it nearly did. Then God intervened. But what next? What happens after the miracle occurs? I had honestly never thought of this side of the miraculous before. JD
And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. Luke 18:40-43 (ESV)
As a child, I always wondered what happened next. After all of the glorifying God is over, the various gospel writers just move on to the next story. The camera follows the Lord, and we never learn how things went for the previously blind, demon possessed, paralyzed, and otherwise ill people he left in his wake. Did the man born blind ever get his colors straight or learn to read? What kind of employment did the beggar in this passage find? Were those cured of leprosy accepted easily by their families? Did the Gerasene demoniac ever win back the trust of his town? Did those healed on the sabbath get the cold shoulder from the religious establishment?
I propose that there is a post-miracle wilderness. When an unexpected miracle changes the circumstances of your life, blessing that it is, there are immense challenges. However bad your previous situation, at least you understood it. It was easy to explain to others. You had a lot of practice at that mode of life, and you had an idea of how to plan for the future. As your new circumstances dawn, you are both very happy and a bit lost.
You quickly come to the end of the gospel style telling of your tale. People have rejoiced, God has been glorified, and you have walked home with your mat. Now Jesus is headed to Capernaum, leaving you to confront your life with very little information. Questions fly furiously from every direction about everything from why you think you received a miracle to whether you were really ill in the first place. Foremost in your mind is a rather different curiosity: is this real, trustworthy? Will I wake up this way tomorrow or back in my old life?
If it does last, if you wake up the next day with your newly restored faculties intact, the long term challenges set in. First you fight through who to tell and how and when to do so. Your long term plans will certainly change, but in our modern bureaucratic society that is easier said than done. For example, explaining that gap on your resume is hard, and few pick the prospective employee who may suddenly become sick again. You may be a part of a program for people in your old circumstances, receiving some kind of help or benefits. The honest thing to do is to get off the rolls, but the fear that you may need that help again makes it hard to take that step. You will be a square peg in a round hole for a very long time, always a bit of a freak. There is a serious risk of being treated as the boy who cried wolf. Even the very Christians who have prayed for you faithfully often are not sure what to make of you now.
There is a darker part of this wilderness yet to explore. Hezekiah was told he had sixteen more years to live, but most of us don’t have that luxury. At some point, your old circumstances return or new grief assails you. This time you don’t just intellectually believe God could fix it, you know from personal experience he could. When he doesn’t, it hurts with an extra wounding, and the doubts about his character deepen. It is a shadowed valley indeed, and very treacherous. It is easy to fall into a prosperity theology, to think you have done something wrong and thus lost God’s favor. It is easy to become a fatalist, to give up trying. It is easy to become bitter and ungrateful for the blessings you received previously.
I don’t have easy answers for someone in this wilderness or simple plans to overcome its obstacles. It is helpful to keep in mind both how little we know about what is occurring around us and what a terrible idea it is to put words in God’s mouth. Hindsight is 20/20, but we are still in the present. To maintain perspective, to cling to God, and to live forthrightly is a great struggle.
I personally find the lives of saints to be a good resource, and I hope to take the hills and valleys of this wilderness with the faithful patience of St. Mary of Egypt. Corporate worship helps keep what is important more central in my mind and resets perspective. More practically, volunteer work is much more forgiving to complicated pasts then paid work is and more fulfilling if you are in a position to do it.
How about you, fellow iMonks? What would you do if a completely unexplained blessing changed your life forever? What would you do if the blessing expired, leaving you in need once more? Do any of you who have walked through this wilderness yourself or alongside a loved one have any thoughts on how best to navigate it?