“I want to get sick so I can be in the hospital,” said my daughter Olivia in the car on the drive home one day. She was only about 7 at the time, but that quote sticks with me.
We usually assume everyone who is sick (emotionally, physically, spiritually) wants to be well. We pastor this way, thinking they just need a little help or some of this or that. We sometimes find, however, the problem never seems to get better. Why doesn’t it?
he other option seems so cynical we judge ourselves and others for entertaining the thought. We have seen astonishing lack of sympathy and it appalls us. We don’t want to be one of those people, so we refuse to consider, or perhaps admit that some people actually don’t want to get well. They love the hospital, and the care and attention it affords.
YES, IT’S POSSIBLE
Some parents actually become agitated when the therapist they hired to help their child actually begins to…help their child. Their identity is in sickness and they either lack a picture of wellness or a taste for wellness when they believe sickness gives them an identity and perhaps some benefits they are afraid to part with. Or, it may be they derive meaning for being he caretaker of the sick–so they need the child to stay unwell so they can continue to derive meaning and identity from their child’s sickness. That itself isn’t healthy, obviously.
Pastors miss their calling when we fail to offer a call to a different way, and when we convey something other than Jesus’ message of healing.
In a church setting, the “I want to get sick” feeling can be encouraged by our preaching. Rightfully so, we may spend great energy highlighting Jesus’ care for the broken, hurting, and downtrodden. However, we may also say things that insinuate absurdities like, “Jesus loves the poor, broken and marginalized more than others.” We don’t realize we are saying, “It’s better to be sick than well,” or, “Jesus prefers you sick.” We encourage sickness by extolling it’s privileged position in the ministry of Jesus–paying less attention to why Jesus spends as much time with the sick as He does–because He is the Great Physician. Physicians make people well. It’s always about wellness, not sickness. They also comfort the sick as they treat them.
I’m not talking here of biblical preaching that extols the Great Physician for how he heals brokenness or the Great Provider for His care and provision for the poor. I’m talking about preaching that makes the Great Physician into something far less–and perhaps even nurtures a part of us who delights in being a professional caretaker than one who points people to the Great Healer. It is easier and more popular to demonstrate empathy than to go through the pain of leading a person to wellness.
To those of us who preach, Jesus would remind us His agenda is healing…not hypochondria. Our ministries should align with this. Our awareness and care for the broken should resemble His. So should our aim toward wellness, not sickness for people.
The those who say, “I want to get sick so I can be in the hospital,” Jesus says, “Do you want to get well? Pick up your mat and walk.” To those who are truly sick, Jesus often offers both comfort and healing. He offers His peace, also. This post isn’t for the truly sick. It is encouragement forward for spiritual hypochondriacs and pastors who encourage their condition unknowingly.
Sickness isn’t what we encourage. It’s sickness we comfort as we work toward healing.