Sitting in church yesterday (and completely unrelated to the sermon), I was struck anew by the story of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9. Because I think this story gives us one of the more accurate pictures of the holy healing process.
It's easy to hope for the kind of healing we see with the blind men - where Jesus needs only speak a word and the men only need believe for the healing to happen. It's easy to look at some of the other stories of healing and hope this is how it has to be. That healing...just happens. That we ask, God gives, and that's that. But anyone who has wrestled with a dragon (because it's not necessarily a demon) in their life knows it's not always that easy.
Healing comes hard.
Let's look at the story:
A man in the crowd answered, 'Teacher, I brought you my son. He is possessed by a spirit that won't let him talk. Whenever the spirit brings on a seizure, it throws him to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes exhausted.' ...They brought the boy to him.
This is the first step in any healing journey, and it cannot be overlooked. We have to be willing to bring our story, our broken story, to God. We have to be willing to speak its truth in stark detail. We have to be willing to live it out before Him and offer it to Him and ask for His help. That's what this father is doing. He's brought the gritty details. He's brought a fragile hope. He's brought a wanting faith. He's come to Jesus with all that he knows, and he's giving God this situation. He's giving God his son.
We have to do this. If there's something in your life that's broken, you have to bring it. You have to carry it with you in all its heavy weight. You have to lay it down at the feet of Jesus and open it up and expose its gruesome innards. You have to lay it bare before Him, and you have to let go.
But then look what happens:
As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it threw the boy into convulsions. He fell on the ground, rolled around, and foamed at the mouth.
When you start to tell your story that it's not your biggest story any more, it gets scared. It will do whatever it can to make itself feel bigger, to make you believe that it is the bigger story, that it cannot be changed, that healing is not possible. It will stand in the face of the God you have just given it to and it will try to prove itself. It will try to break you one more time so that in the same breath, you must be its because you cannot be His. And you can know this is the pattern because Jesus seems so utterly calm about this whole thing. The little boy is seizing on the ground in front of them all, and Jesus turns to the boy's father and continues the conversation.
Jesus asked his father, 'How long has he been like this?' The father replied.... Jesus said to him.... The child's father cried out at once.... When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he gave an order to the evil spirit.
Jesus is content to let the demon have its say, it seems. He's not worried about what's going on. At least, we're given no indication that He's worried. And the boy's father? He's just standing there talking to Jesus while his son is, assumedly, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and becoming exhausted. The father has given the boy to Jesus, and Jesus has given the demon space.
It's weird, right? This is the kind of bedside manner we all hope to avoid, especially those among us who are parents. If you take your seizing child to the doctor, how much of a conversation do you want to stand around having before the doctor does something to stop the seizure? Not much. Yet here they are.
And this is an important part of the healing process, too. You have to see it. You have to see the brokenness and the darkness and the evil. You have to see the wickedness at its best. You have to know what you're dealing with, wholly. You have to know the depth of the trouble to know the power of the triumph.
I'm not saying it doesn't suck. But this is a powerful moment. It's the moment when darkness shows itself to light, foolishly thinking it has any chance to win. It's the moment when brokenness lays itself bare. It's the moment when you see things as they really are. As painful, as harrowing, as heart-breaking as it is, you have to see brokenness in its full measure. And then, He speaks:
He said, 'You spirit that won't let him talk, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.'
Jesus speaks healing. He speaks not to the boy, who needs restored, but to the brokenness, who needs defeated. He speaks wholeness over brokenness, light over darkness, spirit over demon. He speaks directly to the darkness, calling it by name, declaring in His name the authority to heal, and giving the boy his wholeness. It's a powerful moment. It's the healing moment. The fate of the darkness is decided; the boy is healed. End of story, right?
The evil spirit screamed, shook the child violently, and came out. The boy looked as if he were dead, and everyone said, 'He's dead!'
Evil takes one last hold. It takes one more shot at you. It takes one more stand, one more second to try to establish itself as the stronger story. It takes one brief moment of defiance, even when it knows it has been defeated, and it takes hold of you one last time. Why? I'll tell you tomorrow.
But the point is that darkness doesn't let go so easy. It will do whatever it can to hold onto you, and you need to be ready for this. It's why persons on the verge of incredible recoveries often have that setback right there near the end. It's why it's so easy to feel like you've taken 400 steps forward only to suddenly stumble backward near the finish line. It's why just when you start to believe that healing might be possible, it doesn't seem possible any more because brokenness rears its ugly head in one more dramatic fashion. It's why so many come so close only to suddenly stop believing, even when it looks like the story is clearly over. Even when it looks like healing is inevitable, like light wins, like God wins.
Most of us aren't ready for this moment, this last-ditch attempt. It's why we're so taken by it. It's why we're defeated right on the edge of the victory. It's why we defeat ourselves. This story of the demon-possessed boy reminds us this moment is real. It is powerfully real. Just when it looks like it's going to be okay, it suddenly seems like it's all over. Darkness screams, we shake, we tremble, and we fall.
That's not the end of the story, either.
Jesus took his hand and helped him to stand up.
Because Jesus does win. God wins. Healing wins. Darkness dies its terrible death, and we stand. God helps us to our feet. At the moment it looks like it's all over, it's really just beginning. A brand new thing is starting. A holy moment is unfolding. It's beautiful.
That's what we have to know. We have to know how the story unfolds, that healing is this back-and-forth and not so simple as a word. Not for most of us. It'd be nice if, like with so many in the Gospels, healing were just spoken into our lives and manifest. But it's so rarely like that.
We have to bring it to Jesus. Then darkness speaks. Then God speaks. Then darkness screams. Then...then...we stand.
I say all that to say this: some of you are right now in the place where darkness screams. I'm sorry; it's a hard place to be. But don't buy the lie. You will stand. If God has spoken healing into your life, you are healed no matter how loud it feels right now. Darkness will wear itself out, you will shake, you will tremble, and you will fall. And whatever brokenness it is inside of you will feel like maybe it's won. But it hasn't. Jesus will reach out, take your hand, and help you to stand. You will stand. Just hold on.