Tag Archives: wholeness

What is Health?

So having read Arthur’s Call and as part of my current grappling, I’m going to go back to something I wrote  in 1998 as part of my Ministerial Training.  At that time, I had encountered a couple of spells of pretty rubbish health problems and this came out of my coming to terms with them and their profound effects in my life – which until that time, I had pretty much managed to dance around and pretend didn’t matter – until the day I realized they did and the bottom fell out of my world.

It’s funny how God prepares you, for something even more shattering and heart-breaking that is to come.  I’m sharing it, largely unchanged, in the hope that it will remind me and may help someone else.  It will come in three parts.

“If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything” seems at first to be a very positive statement to make.   A similar attitude is shown by expectant parents, when asked about hopes and dreams for their child reply, “we don’t mind as long as it is fit and healthy”.  These frequently uttered comments show an attitude of being  aware that possessions and material gain are of relative unimportance when compared to being fit and well.  Yet they do leave the question of what value there is in life that is not a healthy one. If having your health means that you have everything, does this by definition mean that if you do not have ‘full health’, you have nothing?  Is living with suffering and physical or mental difficulties necessarily second best to supposed full health?  Is human worth directly related to physical functioning?

To hear that you have a medical problem, for which there may be relief, but no cure, can be hard news to take, even more so if there is little relief available.  It may even be that there is a cure, but that in itself will bring further physical repercussions.  For those faced with this situation our response to the consequences, and how they effect the rest of our life, can depend on how we assimilate them into our personhood.  Is it less than ideal, a total disaster, or can it actually be an equally acceptable way of being?  Can there be a position of worth and wholeness within what may appear to be brokenness?

Perhaps the first question to ask is, define ‘normal’  or what do we mean by ‘health’?    Is each individual so focused on ‘what I am is normal’, that society perceives anyone who does not reach or maintain expected norms as somehow lacking.  Or is that a feeling that someone struggling to come to terms with a continuing illness places upon themselves?

Type ‘health’ into a search engine, and such images as this are what are portrayed…

Society places a great emphasis on health, as many advertising campaigns seize on.  To be young, active, and preferably attractive is held up as the ideal, re-enforcing feelings of failure in those who do not make that supposed “standard”.  There are also many other subtle pressures of ‘expectation’, by friends, family or employers that compound feelings of being not as good as the rest. To constantly question our perceptions of what ‘normal’ is, or is not, continually challenges our assumptions without belittling those who do have real difficulties in life. This is subtly different to the approach of ‘well everyone is handicapped in some way!’ which can appear very trite, and shows a total lack of appreciation of what a real handicap in life is like.

With the advent of great medical advances in the last few decades, society has been lulled into feeling that there must be a cure for everything.  Whatever you have wrong can quite literally be made better by one of the medical profession.  It can come as quite a shock to discover first of all that you too are not immune to illness, and that there may not necessarily be anything anyone can do to make it better.  There may be relief for symptoms, but no cure.  The only way forward then is to decide how you are going to come to terms with that. This is not about facing death – that might actually appear as relief.  It is about the struggle to live as we find ourselves to be, not in temporary illness or incapacitation, but an ongoing condition that needs some, if not much, re-assessment of life.  This will mean taking on board what we  are and are not, and finding a way of living with it.  To come to an acceptance of what has happened, and the damage we carry with us.

This may take a major re-alignment on understanding – health does not just mean the absence of physical disability.  There is far more to health than ‘usual’ physical functioning.   Jurgen Moltmann puts health into a new dimension when he says,

It is not a condition of my body, but the power of the soul to cope with the conditions of that body.

Likewise the World Health Organisation defines health as,

A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely an absence of disease and infirmity.

Health has equally to do with self-understanding, and being able to incorporate life events into ourselves, with honesty and courage.  When faced with trauma, specifically here ill-health, after the initial shock, there are several ways to respond.  Some of these will lead to moving on with the news and awareness, and bring a level of wholeness without health.  Others may totally incapacitate our very being.

Tomorrow I will consider What is Healing?










Falling Over the Pile

On Sunday, over on the Big Read 2012 Facebook page, Bex and I were having a conversation about suffering, and how much people’s real stories can help. Me and my big mouth!

25In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.

27The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. 28She had said to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.” 29As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.

30At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31His disciples said to him, “Look at all these people crowding around you! How can you ask who touched you?” 32But Jesus turned to see who had touched him.

33The woman knew what had happened to her. She came shaking with fear and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story.

34Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain.”


If I am perfectly honest, this passage freaks me out. It was hearing this passage read that caused me to finally trip over the pile that I had been sweeping under the carpet.  It came to me that I was that women.  Passed from pillar to post by doctors, some sympathetic, some less so; who could see the problem, but either passed it off as of little consequence, or admitted there was little they could do to help with the intrinsic problem.

And so, I am left with chronic illness.  I have touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak – and I have not been made well…

But does that mean I have not been healed?  I would say not.

We have considered during reading Tom Wright’s book, the new thing that God is going to do.  To me, healing is about God doing a new thing.

During my training for Ministry, I had to face up to the illness I had already suffered – at a time when I was well again.  How amazing that I was able to have that opportunity, truly awful as it was at the time, because when chronic illness struck, I has a foundation on which to build.

God has not taken my chronic illness from me, but he has I believe helped me to live with it.  Once upon I time I would not have coped.  Now I have some kind of understanding.  I am not the person I was, I have to live with limitations, I cannot exercise ministry in the way I once did. Yet… yet in all that, I feel that God has done something new in me.  From a place of vulnerability, I have something different to offer, a new way of being that I didn’t have before.  God is with me, continues to touch me, and still has a use for me – though at the moment it may not be what I might have wanted.  And perhaps most important of all, I am able to live with myself – even my limited self, something I would never have though possible.

This is the conclusion I wrote in an essay after a long summer of struggle and wilderness, for me the place of peace I was able to come to:

So for me, both personally, and as a basis for pastoral care, there has to be the offer of healing and wholeness, whatever the state of our mind and body.  We can lay our pain with the one who took our pain upon himself, and receive Life in its true fullness.  If we do not believe that what else have we to offer to a hurting world?  My very practical definition of healing has to be, accepting all that we are, and all that we will never be, and incorporating that into all that we are.

So don’t be afraid to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, for he will touch you in return – but it may not be in the way you imagined!  God is doing a new thing – in me, in you, in the world – let’s work with him.

Thank you Lord

that as I reach out to touch you,

you reach out to me too.

Let me allow you to touch me,

my heart, mind, soul –

my life.

May I allow you to do the new work in me that you long to,

that I might be truly whole

I’ll go and read what Tom Wright has to say about this passage now!

This year, I am again following the Big Read using Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone – Mark.  I’ll reflect here – if you’re following it too, or even if you’re not, please share with me.

Get Out!

Jesus started off in the Synagogue – the obvious place for someone who had come to show God to people.
Yet in the synagogue he had received so much grief –

you can’t do that,

we don’t do things that way here,

who do you think you are to do that?

Jesus left the synagogue, and his work continued.

Jan Brueghel

Jesus went to Simon and Andrew’s home – out into the community.  Away from the petty disagreements and rules and people flocked to him.  He brought wholeness and hope to the suffering and struggling.  He was accessible and welcoming.  And God worked.

Later, he realised the need to go out to the other villages, not to be stuck in one place, but to get out to where people were.   He preached in synagogues, but he didn’t demand that from people – he met their need where they were.  Sometimes he worked within the church of the day, sometimes he stepped outside to work.

Jesus didn’t confine his work to the places where God supposedly was – safely inside the synagogues.  He, and God, worked everywhere – places where people needed him wherever that was.

We too are called to take God everywhere.  He is not just for inside churches, for “religious” occasions – he is for everyone, everywhere.

  • Do we stop people doing Gods work by questioning them, and making them feel uncomfortable?
  • Do we try to keep God and his work inside the churches?
  • Do we take risks and step outside?
  • Do we need to get out of the church more to where people are living there lives?

Let’s take God with us wherever we go, and let him work wherever he needs to.

Thank you God

that you are not confined by places,

that you meet people where they are

and how they need.

May I remember

that you go with me everywhere,

and allow you to work.