A healing church for hurting people

None of us can heal ourselves. Photo: Elena Elisseeva
Published February 14, 2012

Wayne Newton is probably best known as a Las Vegas entertainer. He is also a devoted Elvis Presley fan. In 1992, Wayne Newton produced a music video titled The Letter, based on a letter Elvis Presley wrote shortly before his death.

According to USA Today, Elvis, during his last engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton in December 1976, kept a notepad by his bed to record his thoughts. One night, he wrote down especially personal thoughts, then crumpled up the paper and threw it away. He wrote: “I feel so alone sometimes. The night is quiet for me. I’d love to be able to sleep. I am glad that everyone is gone now. I’ll probably not rest. I have no need for all of this. Help me, Lord.”

An aid retrieved the note after he saw Elvis throw it away. “When I asked the contents of it,” says Newton, “I was so moved that I purchased it.”

In the music video, Newton sings his own lines: “As I awake again today, the pain won’t go away,” but Newton also speaks the entire contents of Elvis’s letter. He said of the letter: “It reflects a man reaching to the ultimate for help. Once I digested it and got over the shock, I realized that it was feelings that I, too, had had at times. I realized…that kind of loneliness creeps into everybody’s life.”

Have you ever felt that kind of loneliness? I have. When I’m under pressure or tired or stressed out, I can behave insensitively toward my family and other people, and then feel bad afterwards. Why couldn’t I have taken an extra moment, an extra deep breath, and remembered to consider their feelings? Instead I experience loneliness and isolation and deep anxiety about my life.

In our crazy, mixed-up world, more and more of us are feeling that way. Our consumer culture would have us believe that we can have it all, but I am finding that, as I grow older, it’s just not possible to have it all without paying a terrible price. If I push myself too hard or too far, I end up with problems that I am unable to handle by myself—my physical health begins to fail, my peace of mind begins to erode, my emotional well-being begins to diminish.

We all have problems, don’t we? Right now you may be struggling with caring for an aging parent, or getting your finances in order, or coping with your career, or trying to keep the love in your marriage, or dealing with some disease or disability. Problems are as varied as people, and problems result in pain.

How do we deal with the pain of being human? Ignore it? Keep a stiff upper lip? Try to escape through alcohol or drugs or sex? None of that will work. For here’s the simple truth: if you don’t deal with your pain, your pain will deal with you—and sap the joy out of your life.

What you and I really need is healing, but none of us can heal ourselves, which is why we need Jesus. Make no mistake about it. Jesus came to heal the hurt out of our lives. The word “salvation” has the connotation in the original Greek of meaning “healing and fulfillment.” Jesus wants to save you, but he also wants to heal your hurt and give you a sense of fulfilment about your life.

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 1, verses 40 to 45, a leper approaches Jesus and begs to be healed. “If you choose, you can make me clean,” he says to Jesus. And the Bible says, “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”

I believe we have to see this miracle in the context of the entire ministry of Jesus. In Mark 1:39 we read: “[Jesus] went throughout Galilee, proclaiming in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Matthew 4:23 tells us that Jesus went about Galilee “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Just to make sure we get the message, Matthew repeats that verse in chapter 9:35: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages…curing every disease and every sickness.”

If you’ve got it altogether, then you don’t need Jesus. He didn’t come for the healthy, but for the sick. He came for those “Humpty Dumptys” of the world—those broken, messed-up people who just can’t put all the pieces of their lives back together again by themselves.

Jesus came for the gluttons and the drunkards, the tax collectors and prostitutes. He came for Zacchaeus, who was a cheat and a scoundrel. He came for Martha, who was a workaholic. He came for the Roman centurion who had his world under control until his son was near death. He came for the Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was living with a man not her own. He came for the woman, caught in adultery, who an angry mob wanted to kill. He came for the widow who lost her son; and for the woman whose continued hemorrhage left her ritually unclean.

Yes, Jesus came touching lepers, healing, and raising the dead.

As we read the gospel, we find there is no circumstance of suffering, trial or tragedy that can prevent Jesus’ coming into the situation and healing it. Quite simply, Jesus came for all those people no one else would go near—and he came to heal them.

And Jesus wants to heal you, too.

So often I pray: “Jesus, I’ve got a problem. It’s me.”

And so often Jesus looks at me and replies: “Gary, I’ve got the answer. It’s me.”

As a priest, I used to think that healing was a ministry of the church, but now I know that healing is the church’s ministry. The church exists to heal hurting lives, to restore broken spirits, and to help us become whole and healthy as human beings fully alive to God and to each other.

Sadly, the church is not always perceived that way in our society. Instead of healing the hurting, we sometimes have a reputation for shooting the wounded. How many people do we know who have walked away from the church because of a bad experience?

One of the most pernicious images of the church is to think of it as a health club, where members are committed to keeping themselves in optimum condition. Staff wellness advisers provide carefully monitored exercise, diet guidelines and stress reduction clinics. Daily classes are held for different ages and special interest groups. Room after room of exercise equipment, spas, pools and lecture facilities are available to help people get into excellent physical condition.

The only problem in this club is that those who don’t model its ideals are quietly removed from the club rolls. Quickest to lose membership are those who come down with heart disease, cancer or any untreatable condition. People who gain weight are likewise removed and their club keys are called in. In this health club, people are willing to be good to you only as long as you are good to them.

But the church of Jesus is supposed to be different!

The church is a community of wounded people, men and women with troubled minds and burdened consciences, all loved by God. The church is a community of people bound together by their strengths and their brokenness, a community of people who are limping toward the sunrise, but know that God’s love claims them, everyone. The church is the place where people can make a lot of mistakes and still feel loved, accepted and forgiven. I like the way Pastor Tim Timmons put it: “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, but that’s okay.”

The church should be the one place where you can share your pain with others without being judged, criticized or condemned. I would hope that every member of this parish is in some kind of caring group where you don’t have to suffer your pain alone but you can share it with others.

A small group of people who truly care about you is an incredible blessing. You will find that when you are going through a tough time, people will write you a note of encouragement or call you on the phone. You will find that your group will love you when you can’t love yourself. You will find that as trust builds in the group, people will open their lives to you, letting you see their struggles, and even their tears. You will find a community where you can feel safe and secure; having neither to weigh your thoughts nor measure your words, but to pour them all out just as they are, knowing there are people who are really listening to you, deeply caring about you, and who desire the best for you.

I began this reflection with that sleepless night Elvis Presley experienced shortly before he died. Remember the words of his letter? “I feel so alone sometimes. The night is quiet for me. I’d love to be able to sleep. I am glad that everyone is gone now. I’ll probably not rest. I have no need for all this. Help me, Lord.”

Sadly, Elvis Presley never got the support he needed as he struggled with his own demons. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way for any of us.

Several years ago I read of a man who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When news of his condition reached his friends, they rallied to his support, overwhelming him with letters and notes and words of encouragement. No, the Alzheimer’s did not abate. There was no miracle, no cure. Eventually he died from complications of the disease, but throughout the process he was surrounded by family, his church community and his friends, who loved him to his dying breath. In his last message to friends, he quoted William Shakespeare: “Fear not, all will yet be well.”

“Fear not, all will yet be well”—those words were taken to heart by actor Charlton Heston, a Christian who died as he lived, a believer in Jesus and a faithful member of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The truth is: there is no challenge, no burden and no adversity that we have to face alone. The church is here to walk with you, listen to you, pray for you and support you in whatever life throws your way.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.


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