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Learning by Repetition
When healing doesn't come.
When I was little, the deepest longing of my heart was to see my brother walk. At night I’d lie on my back and try to think back before that invisible moment in the womb when things had changed. And then I’d think back even farther. Back to my dad being a kid, back to dinosaurs, back to the Earth covered in water, and the Spirit of God hovering over. Then I’d whimper a little child’s version of Martha's prayer: “Lord, if you had been there… but I know God will give you whatever you ask…” (John 11:21).
Once when I was about 8 a lady at church told me if I had enough faith God would heal my brother. Was that what was holding God back, I wondered? My pathetic faith? Around that time I asked my dad if he thought God could heal Dustin. His answer was calm, kind, and final. “Yes, but I don’t think he will.”
From that point on, I began to make an awkward peace with disability. Nothing less than heaven will make this right, but it will be made right, because of heaven. It’s a truth I must repeat each day, over the stove when my mind wanders. With time, it has hardened into something useful I can depend on. Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27).
In college I began to fear this need for repetition was a fool’s game, a sad attempt to steel myself that showed my faith was misplaced. I gave in to sorrow there for a while and had a bumpy road. But I’ve come to understand that grief demands we learn by repetition. And like most areas of study, if your repetition is correct it will eventually give way to mastery.
This is the pedagogy of Jesus in John 9. Think what monotony the blind man experienced, before he met Jesus. Every morning when others saw the sun, he did not. All day long while others worked, he begged, reaching out again and again until it was night – and he did not see the stars. I can only wonder how often his heart cried out for a miracle. Had he too made peace with disability?
Maybe he had, but Jesus had not. Jesus gave the man sight, and a new lesson to repeat. I am the man who used to sit and beg. (v. 9). And then I could see. (v. 11). Jesus put mud on my eyes and now I see. (v. 15). I was blind but now I see. (v. 25). Jesus opened my eyes. (v. 30). In time he gained the greater truth: none less than Messiah can give life, but you will have life, because of Messiah. (verse 38).
It’s been 40-plus years of repetition for me. Where grief once waged a war, I’ve gained a tiny fortress. So if I have to fight a hundred times a day to keep it, let me keep on repeating: Christ in you, the hope of glory. Because the day is coming when I will not live by faith, but by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:2). And if I must keep on repeating until then, it will be worth it.