When I first became ill, I had lots of wonderful, well-meaning people who tried to help by giving me spiritual advice. Unfortunately, most of their advice boiled down to one simple thought: God wasn’t healing my illness because I didn’t have enough faith or because I wasn’t doing something right.
In Psalm 18:18, David said that on the day when he was weakest the enemy attacked. That’s the way I felt when I came under a barrage of “friendly fire.” For the most part, the advice was given out of love, and I knew that. But knowing that people were trying to be kind didn’t make my situation easier to handle. There’s something hideous about facing a debilitating illness, and there’s something crushing when you’re continually told that your faith isn’t strong enough to qualify you for healing.
When I was sick, people gave me TONS of reasons why God wasn’t healing me. People said I was ill because I didn’t have enough faith, because I wasn’t “claiming” my healing properly, because I was admitting that I was sick, because I wasn’t standing on God’s promises, because I was being cursed by the words of my mouth when I admitted I was in pain, because I had committed some sort of secret sin that I wasn’t aware of committing, because I wasn’t praying correctly, because I wasn’t rebuking the devil sufficiently, because I was allowing fear to steal what God wanted to do, because I said the words “my illness” rather than “the illness the devil is inflicting,” because I was unknowingly harboring bitterness, because I had unknowingly hurt someone else, because I was worshiping something more than God, because I’d allowed pain to steal my joy, because I must be rebellious, because I wasn’t submitting to God, because I wasn’t taking my healing by force, because I was too prideful, because I was too insecure, because I was being punished, because I was being promoted, because I was failing some spiritual test, because, because, because… I’ve lost count of the number of things people claimed I was doing wrong. The word games people played were enormous, but for the most part, things boiled down to one simple message—I wasn’t jumping through their idea of the proper hoop and that’s why God wasn’t healing me.
Some people didn’t stop at giving me spiritual advice. Some took action.
One person chased me down, grabbed my hands, and demand that I repeat after them, “I am healed. I believe God is healing me now.” (This would have been fine, if I hadn’t been desperately trying to get to a bathroom so I could vomit.)
One person came to my house and told me that since Jesus healed everyone He encountered, I wasn’t being healed because my faith wasn’t sufficient. When I brought up John chapter 5 and the fact that Jesus only healed one person at the pool of Bethesda, I was told that I needed to study the Bible more—the implication being that I wasn’t being healed because I had a lack of Biblical knowledge. (At the time, I was reading the Bible cover-to-cover every month and memorizing vast quantities of Scripture.)
One person told me that my faith needed to have action behind it. This person said I should open a detergent bottle, sniff the contents, and loudly declare that I was healed of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. (Thinking the advice might have merit, I sniffed the detergent and boldly proclaimed my healing. Even as the words left my lips, I became extremely ill and was in agonizing pain for several weeks.)
Eventually, being told over-and-over that my continued illness was caused by a flawed spiritual condition had an effect. After absorbing all of the advice, I figured that maybe something really WAS wrong with me. Maybe I WASN’T doing something right. So I began jumping through all kinds of hoops trying to be healed. You know me, and you know that when I try to do something, I put my whole heart into it.
The lengths I went to were enormous. Seeking God and seeking healing became the focus of my life. I memorized healing Scriptures, I played praise music 24-7, I posted Bible verses all over my house, I had people anoint me with oil and pray for my healing, I put myself on prayer chains, I Jericho marched around my house declaring it was God’s, I anointed my doorposts with oil and declared the enemy couldn’t enter, I wrote letters and made phone calls asking people to forgive me for any offenses I might have committed, I went through my house with a fine-tooth comb and threw away anything that might be considered objectionable to God, I took communion publicly and privately, I confessed any possible sin I may have committed publicly and privately, I fasted, I prayed, I declared, I proclaimed, I stood in faith, I groveled on the ground in supplication asking for mercy. I did everything anyone suggested. I did everything I could find in Scripture. I did everything I’d heard mentioned on religious television. I did everything I’d read in religious articles. And I didn’t just do those things for a week or a month—I did them for YEARS. I TRIED HARD TO DO EVERYTHING RIGHT.
But nothing happened. I was still ill.
Then another nice, well-meaning person told me that I was trying too hard. They said that God wouldn’t honor my earthly efforts because I was relying on what I could do rather than on what God could do. They said that my efforts were proof that I wasn’t standing in faith and that’s why I wasn’t being healed.
After that, I gave up. After that, I grew bitter. After that, I decided that I’d never jump through another hoop. After that, I decided that I didn’t want anything to do with a fickle God who played games. After that, my life became a painful misery.
Eventually, I reexamined my faith and recommitted my life to God. When I did, I asked the Lord why He wasn’t healing me. I heard His voice deep inside my soul. It was extremely gentle and full of love. He simply said, “I could heal you and set you aside, but I am doing a different thing in you. I am healing you minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day—you will be well.”
Even after all this time, I still don’t understand why God didn’t heal me immediately. I don’t know why I had to be ill for so many years. I don’t understand why I had to endure seven years of quarantine. But there’s one thing I do know—it wasn’t because I had “sinned,” or because I didn’t have faith, or because I wasn’t trying hard enough, or because I was trying too hard. I believe it was because God had a different plan in mind for me. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “This plan of mine is not what you would work out, neither are my thoughts the same as yours! For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts [higher] than yours.” I believe that God used those years of quarantine to establish my faith on a deeper level. I don’t believe that God caused my illness, but I do believe that He used my illness for His glory. I do believe that He didn’t heal me immediately because He knew that what I was learning during quarantine would eventually help others.
God knows the end from the beginning. He sees all things. He understands all things. We aren’t God. We don’t always comprehend why things are happening, and pretending that we do isn’t always wise—and giving well-meaning advice to hurting people based on our suppositions isn’t always wise either. When someone is hurting, I think the best thing a person can do is pray for them, love them, and be extremely careful when handing out advice. After my experience with well-meaning people, I try very hard to love LOTS and speak LITTLE. And before I open my mouth, I pray fervently, asking God to set a guard before my lips so that my words will bring life and healing rather than condemnation and discouragement. There’s a definite place for Godly advice—but there’s also a place for loving silence. My illness was hard to bear, but the mental anguish I endured because of “helpful” people was even worse.
I believe that in the church, we’re often guilty of inflicting friendly fire. When someone is hurting, we automatically want to help—and that’s good. We automatically want to share advice that might alleviate their pain—and that’s good up to a point. I think the most important thing we should realize is that we don’t know everything. And no matter what we think, we don’t really know why a person is ill or why God isn’t healing them. And pretending that we do, and giving advice based on our suppositions, can be incredibly damaging and dangerous to someone who is hurting. Going forward with my life, I hope that I will never forget this lesson. Going forward with my life, I pray that my words will always bring hope, give encouragement, and draw people closer to God.
“The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:21a
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” James 1:19a
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other.” 1 Peter 4:8a