I have been thinking a lot about the story of Jesus healing the paralytic – the one whose friends lowered him through the roof to lay him at the feet of Christ (Luke 5:17-26). “Finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, [his friends] went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus” (Luke 5:19). We all want to be that kind of friend, right? We all want to be willing to band together and lay those dearest to us at the feet of our God. We want to be the caretakers and the people who pray. We want to be the ones stopping by to check on another. We want to drop off dinner or pick up kids. We want to be the strong ones. We want to be the well ones. And we want to care for those who are not.
But what about those days or weeks or months when we are the paralytic?
I’ve missed pretty much the entire month of July. I have mono, which is a nasty little virus. It isn’t serious but it is lingering. I was in bed for the better part of two weeks. And my people rallied. My mom put her life on hold to move in and make meals and do dishes and fold laundry. My friends dropped off movies and meals and magazines. They brought Tylenol and walked my dog. And one day, four of them sat on my bed, and they prayed – for healing, for rest, for protection, for the Lord’s will to prevail, for His Presence to dwell thick in my home.
That’s when I started thinking about that paralyzed man on his mat.
I thanked God that my friends are the kind who will crawl up on rooftops, if they have to, in order to lay me at the feet of the One who heals. I wanted so badly to be well. I wanted to leap up and show them that their prayers had been effective. I wanted to not feel like such a burden, but the truth was that I wasn’t immediately well.
A new part of the paralytic’s story caught my eye. Let’s call it “awkward lag time.” As he landed at the feet of Christ, Jesus’ first act was not to heal but to forgive: “when He saw [the friends’] faith, He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you'” (Luke 5:20). It was, of course, the more eternal work. However, when our bodies are a wrecked and weary mess of cells gone wild, it is hard to see past the temporal. We are not only spirit but matter too. And our hearts beat with the conviction that we are made to be fully well.
Sometimes, though, there is a reason that Jesus leaves us laying at His feet. Sometimes there is a reason that the healing doesn’t happen in a moment. Sometimes He knows that He cannot give new life to our limbs until His Life has penetrated the depth of our spirit.
Sometimes illness is the sedative of the Surgeon.
Until we stop fighting and surrender to rest. Until we stop struggling to stand and lay vulnerable at His feet. Until we stop begging Him to renew our strength and allow Him to show us His. I’m not suggesting that this is the reason for all illness, nor am I saying that illness is the only way He could accomplish this. I’m only saying that this is what I’m learning: I’m learning to stop; I’m learning to rest; I’m learning to be still. Because my body needs me to be.
But what if we realized that our spirits need it more?
What if Jesus let that man lay paralyzed upon his mat for just a few additional minutes so that he could study his Savior’s feet? What if Jesus let that man’s body lay limp so that he would know the strength of Christ’s love before he ever knew the strength of running legs? What if Jesus let the man’s limbs hang lifeless so that he would linger just a little longer in the Presence of his Lord?
The healing did come. Power pulsed through his body. His legs found the strength to stand. And he carried his own mat through the throng of people. But somehow I suspect he never forgot the “awkward lag time” at the feet of God. I suspect he never regretted it. So I’m trying to savor these afternoons when I don’t quite have the energy to fight rest. And I’m thinking that God might have known what He was doing when He instituted the sabbath.
What if we rested before we got so weary? What if we let God be God and stopped working so hard to prove it? What if we stopped standing in our own stubborn, stoic strength and rested instead in the perfect faithfulness of the Healer who knows when we need a few extra moments at His feet?