The other day my small group and I were reading John 5, which includes the story of a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Day-in, day-out he sits near a pool that many believed had healing powers, hoping that someday he might be first into the pool, which he hoped could heal him and free him.
The first thing Jesus says when he encounters this man is, “Do you want to get well?” Of all the questions Jesus could have asked, this seems like the least necessary one. How can you ask a man who has been enslaved by his own body for thirty-eight years whether he wants to be free? Of course he yearns for freedom! Is there anything he could want more than that?
However, of the words that Jesus spoke, these might be the ones I have to repeat back to myself most often. Do I want healing to come? Do I want reconciliation in that relationship? Do I want to be freed from my anxiety-ridden thinking? Do I want to overcome the things I am terrified of? The answers to these questions seem wholly obvious, until I remember how comfortable I am harboring resentment in painful relationships, or receiving grace and sympathy when I am struggling with anxiety, or perpetuating self-deprecation because confidence feels so much riskier. Like the man in John’s story, I must be reminded that there are elements of choice and activeness in our opportunities for healing and growth.
The last thing I intend is to dismiss suffering, pain or the power of deep fear. I see and feel the power that these things have over myself and those around me and I loudly acknowledge the role they play in our daily realities. However, I do long for us to see Jesus more clearly and to trust him more deeply, which does not require silencing our suffering, but surrendering it to the greatest of all sufferers. If we believe in what Christ experienced on the cross and in his deep love for humanity, we must acknowledge his overwhelmingly versed understanding of pain. This is he who says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
We follow the only person who has both experienced the deadliest of suffering and has overcome it. He is home to the deepest compassion and understanding alongside the utmost authority and ability to empower. Thus, “Do you want to get well?” is no condescending question implying slothful wallowing, but an invitation to no longer guard and protect our suffering, but to be wholly seen, understood, healed and ultimately made well.