Faith Works 1-16-10
Healings, Mental and Physical
I believe in healing, which has gotten me some very interesting e-mail this past week.
Some folks (who must not have read on through the column) wanted to know why I would align myself with Oral Roberts and other even less savory characters who began to trade healing promises for requests to send checks.
Others were concerned that I didn't say clearly enough that if you pray with sincere faith, miraculous healing is the necessary result for anyone who asks (as long as . . . insert qualification here).
What is even more dangerous ground to tread upon, like recently formed pond ice, is mental health, and healing hopes for overcoming illness in that category.
After my encounters with medical care last month, and the column last week, I wanted to make one more set of personal comments in relation to mental health. As the saying goes, or should, columnists rush in where angels fear to tread – so here goes.
My surgery almost did not come off, and was postponed a week, because of a malady known as "white coat syndrome." Let's call it WCS, which sounds nicely clinical. It means that, for some, going into a health care setting, a doctor's office or more commonly a hospital (let alone an emergency room), one's blood pressure and sometimes pulse rate ratchet up dramatically.
Quite sensibly, when my blood pressure on the original day for my oh-so-fun procedure went up and stayed up in pre-op, I was told by the anesthesiologist "go home, go to your doctor, and let's get that number down before we put you under." I was fortunate enough to get into my family doctor that very morning, and an hour after my bell-ringing numbers, in the more familiar surroundings of this doc's office, my numbers were down right normal, average even.
The suggestion? "Here, take this prescription." Not for blood pressure meds, but for an anti-anxiety drug I would take the morning of when we got me rescheduled (and just to be safe, we did my BP at the doc's office every day in between – it was fine). My WCS was anxiety, and medicine has anti-anxiety meds, so all's well.
Here's my insight, such as it is. I was ticked off. Not at the doctor, but at myself. Keep in mind that as a parish pastor, I've spent more time climbing up and down the back stairs of more hospitals than a pharmaceutical sales rep, in six states over three decades. I know better than to clutch up when I'm facing surgery, I know what's going to happen better than most, and I know . . . ok, it's possible part of my problem is that I know too much about hospitals. Anyhow.
What I really had a hard time shaking was the conviction that with prayer and willpower (or willpower and prayer) I should be able to overcome this WCS on my own. Why do I need a pill? This is stupid.
Yes, it was. Anxiety, in this case, was an entirely autonomic nervous system response. Like many forms of depression, mania, or other illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or more loosely understood problems like autism or even fibromyalgia, there is little you can do to "think" your way back to mental health.
And medical science has tools you can use to get to a point where you do regain some control over your choices, of both mood & attitude, and of action & movement. Using those tools is not a sign of weakness, and they are often the only way you can return to your strengths. As a person of faith, claiming your gifts and your calling is never something we're expected to do entirely on our own, in isolation.
Prayer, in these contexts, can be a healing factor to help us say yes, to accept help from others, even from doctors.
So I took my one pill, let it help me overcome my WCS, got the surgery, and healed up afterwards (and still am, a bit) with the help of many prayers, many medical professionals, and much love. There's no one part of that formula I believe God would have me do without.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about what's healed you at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.