Years ago, “in between church jobs”, as she puts it, Sister Elizabeth was working as a nurse in a chronic diseases hospital in Massachusetts. One of the patients she was caring for was a man who had on his back a sore that went all the way to the bone and from which he was in agony. In addition to the pain, he was consumed with anxiety.
One day he asked Sister Elizabeth, “Am I going to get better?”
She doesn’t know where the answer came from, but she found herself saying, “Yes, you are going to get better — if not here, then in heaven.”
The next day when she went into his room, she found him still in pain, but totally at peace. “I’m glad I’m going to get better,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where — here or in heaven.” A few days later he died.
In The Impact of God, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), Iain Matthew reflects on the experience of darkness as described by Saint John of the Cross. Matthew says that although not all pain is a healing darkness — that “night more lovely than the dawn” where God works to bring us to union with Christ — it is still true that any suffering can become this blessed night.
One of the qualities of this grace-filled night is that there is an “inflow of God”:
“The admission that we cannot heal ourselves, while it may take some tension out of the air, fails of itself to hold out hope. What makes ‘night’ blessed is the added assurance that the one who can heal does intend to heal. Where God finds space, he enters….That is what makes night something other than disastrous.”
“The one who can heal does intend to heal.”
Whether our suffering is physical or on some other level, God wants to heal us. What matters most in the long run, may not be whether the medical or psychic “cure” takes place now or later. To accept God’s loving desire to enter into our pain, to allow in ourselves the space where God can enter, to respond with faith to the “inflow of God” — this may in itself be a deeper healing than any cure would be.
Sister Elizabeth’s patient placed his trust in the healing intention of God, and his darkness became a blessed night filled with peace as it led him to that ultimate healing of heaven.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.