While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”
“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB, emphasis mine)
This about breaks my heart.
There is such shame associated with illness. Logically, you know that it isn’t your fault. You didn’t ask to be sick. (Who would ask to be sick)? You didn’t seek it out. You’re doing what you can, what you know to do, to treat it. To try and live as normal a life as possible. You put on your brave face and smile. You don’t want anyone to know how it really is, what it really feels like.
You don’t want anyone to notice.
Is that what she was feeling that day? Usually, when I read this passage, I pick up on her desperation. And it’s there, surely. All she wanted was to be made well. But she didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. She didn’t look Him in the face and beg for grace. No, in her shame and suffering, she squeezed her way through the crowd and reached out what I imagine was a trembling hand. Please, don’t notice me.
Because the fact is, a lot of the time, when people know about your illness, they get weird. They don’t know what to do or say, so they don’t do or say anything. They fade from your life like a grass stain lifted out of denim. Or they don’t know what to do or say, so they get bizarrely hostile, attempting to convince you to try this or that remedy, stubbornly refusing to let the topic go. Me, I’m not sure which option is more stressful for the suffering person to deal with, but I do know that both are equally painful.
I often go around in stealth mode, hoping that my face doesn’t betray the pain I feel, hoping that I can get through a sentence without the slurred speech of nausea giving me away. People ask me how I’m doing and I say, “Fine,” even when I’m the furthest from fine, because there just isn’t a lot of space to be candid, to be real. Who really wants to know that my big belly scar can actually predict the weather, because the skin and scar tissue is sensitive to pressure changes, and sometimes it all gets so tight and knotted up that all I want to do is cry? Who really wants to know that sometimes my head hurts so badly that I can’t remember what was just said to me?
And that’s the thing: The church should want to know. The Body of Christ should understand that when one suffers, all suffer. We’re family, and family is meant to stick together, through thick, thin, and all states between.
But we’re not good at that.
And so I often metaphorically approach others from behind. I want the connection, I want the relationship, but I know that my presence makes things messy and uncomfortable. I seek to operate on the periphery, not drawing too much attention to myself because I don’t want to be noticed, but at the same time hoping that someone will notice. The noticing I hope for is of the compassionate, genuine sort; the kind that neither fades nor tries to fix.
You know, the noticing involved in real friendship.
This woman may not have had a single true friend in the crowd that day. She may have feared that Jesus would respond to her as the others did. Isn’t that awful? Imagine her, struggling to make her way through the throngs of people. Nobody to help her. Just the desire for healing pushing her on, but not a loud desire. Quiet, desperate.
Know that there are those around you who are just like her.
Ask God to open your eyes to their presence. Ask Him to flood your heart with love for us.
For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.