Healing Line

Healing Line

A Wedding of Opposites

by Judith MacNutt
Spring 2001

A new interest in the connection between health and spirituality has exploded on the scene everywhere. We see it in magazines, the media and clinical research. As a result, Christian physicians, therapists, nurses and other health care professionals are beginning the struggle to integrate their faith with their professional training.

Many of those professionals are trapped between the health professional's role as understood in a medically–oriented world and their role as Christians who believe in the power of healing prayer. As one Christian physician stated, "The pain lies in being caught between existing role models."

Several years ago, I was caught in this same struggle while working as a staff psychologist at a New England psychiatric hospita!. My role as a therapist was defined as a "clinician," not as a spiritual healer. A separation of personal faith and clinical practice was expected, and any deviation from that role was openly discouraged. I had to consider my professional standing among my colleagues, as well as my subordinate position as a paid employee of the hospital. The conflict for me became intense, because God was asking me to intimately include Jesus in the therapeutic healing process.

A realization slowly dawned upon me that I did not fully belong to either the professional medical community or to the Christian community of ministers and priests. Praying with or for my patients left me in a no–man's land, not understood by either community. I felt isolated within both communities. The ministers I consulted about healing prayer did not believe in it and did not practice it. I was told that "the age of miracles" was past. My professional colleagues were adamant that faith and therapy should never be linked. Yet, God was directing me to pray for my patients. God led me to read Isaiah 61, which states the mission of Jesus: "I have come to heal the brokenhearted, and to set the captive free."

This conflict is troubling the hearts of many Christians in health care professions. How can they respond to the severe pain they see around them without addressing the spiritual needs of their patients?

CHM is in contact daily with health caregivers seeking to integrate their faith with their professional expertise. We want to do our best to offer encouragement, training and support to these gifted men and women of God.

Our most recent venture has been to create three medical videos (advertised in this newsletter) which provide an introduction to current medical research, together with encouragement and practical ways for beginning to incorporate healing prayer in medical practice. CHM also offers a medical internship program for medical personnel. During our first medical internship program, the doctors attending said one of the great benefits, aside from the training, was being able to meet with other doctors. This networking for support is essential for physicians and nurses to learn how to integrate prayer into their medical practices.

I'd like to share several responses we received from therapists following their CHM training:

"I had always considered myself a good Christian therapist and had tried to be one. However, after the training I wept bitterly for an hour in repentance for not being the healer I might have been for the last 20 years. If I had only known then what I learned at your training."

"Since training. I have spent more time in prayer with my clients. I've seen wonderful healings happen in difficult cases!"

"Thank you for your encouragement and direction — just knowing what to say and do with patients is what God is directing me to learn."

"It was helpful to feel a part of a larger healing team. I received the affirmation I needed, so I won't have to depend only on myself in the healing process."

How can we begin to incorporate prayer in our healthcare professions? How can we encourage healthcare professionals to incorporate their faith in their practices? Sometimes a simple question will be enough to re–direct the session. If you are a physician, maybe you could ask a patient: "Would you be interested in prayer as part of your treatment?" My personal experience as a wounded patient is that I am very receptive to receiving healing prayer.

If you are the patient and you desire healing prayer, perhaps you could simply ask if there is someone in the office who might pray with you. A gentle revolution might take place if Christian patients began to request prayer as part of their treatment program.

We read in Sirach 38:9–15 (The book of Sirach is in the Apocrypha of the Protestant Bible and in the main body of the Catholic Bible. It is also called the Book of Ecclesiasticus): "My child, when you are ill, delay not but pray to God, who will heal you; Flee wickedness; let your hands be just, cleanse your heart of every sin; Offer your sweet smelling oblation and petition, a rich offering according to your means. Then give the doctor his place lest he leave you; for you need him too. There are times that give him an advantage, and he too beseeches God, that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. He who is a sinner toward his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor."

This quote from Sirach about the doctor/ patient relationship offers guidelines for healing that have been overlooked by patients and doctors for centuries. Here are the points that Sirach makes:

  • When you are sick, pray for healing.
  • Cleanse your soul from sin (unforgiveness is a major block to healing).
  • Then consult the doctors, for you may need them, too.
  • The doctor will also pray and ask God for a diagnosis and the choice of an effective treatment.
  • A cure should result.
  • Notice that prayer comes first, but it is assumed that some cures only come through the doctor's care.

When our daughter was a patient in a local hospital a few years ago, she was treated by a gentle Dr. Smith (not his real name). Rachel was in tremendous pain of unknown origin, and Dr. Smith came into the room to inform us about the diagnostic tests he had ordered. As a parent, when my child is suffering, I appreciate any support I can get. I sensed his distress and concern for her suffering. However, at no time did he offer to pray for her. What a tremendous help and encouragement prayer would have been to the three of us — patient, mother and doctor! Paradoxically, a few weeks later I saw Dr. Smith kneeling in prayer at a church service. (Perhaps he was praying for his patients.)

How neatly we have compartmentalized our lives. God is trying to melt these artificial barriers we have erected since the age of the so–called Enlightenment. God desires "a wedding of opposites," as our good friend, Tommy Tyson, puts it. Only they are not really opposites. Prayer and medicine both come from God's loving hands as healing gifts for His suffering children!

Francis MacNutt Judith MacNutt is author, teacher, conference speaker and co–founder of CHM. Spring 2001 Issue