God of Comfort and Healing

Yesterday I spent the morning at the allergist with Sarah, who mightily resisted the idea of getting multiple pokes to be tested for allergies.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. She screeched and carried on like we were skinning her alive, so bound-and-determined was she not to get scratched by a dozen little plastic toothpicks. Happily, none of the tests proved positive, though we are going to have her treat her room for dust mites.

The last time we were in the doctor’s office to get a flu shot for the kids, Sarah put on a similar display … and was dumbfounded by how her brother sat stoically while he got his shot. “Doesn’t it hurt him, too?” she wanted to know.

“Well, probably not as much. You see, when he sits still and thinks about something else, his body relaxes and the shot doesn’t hurt so much. When you get yourself all worked up and upset, your muscles tense up and the shot hurts even more than if you just sat quietly.”

Of course, that sage bit of advice didn’t do much good yesterday. At the sight of the toothpicks, she went into full panic mode. But she did recall the advice I gave her … she recited it almost verbatim. “If I sit still and sing a song, the shots won’t hurt so much, right Mommy?”

Right, Sweetheart.

Today I was reading Barb SFO’s blog, and came across her post on receiving the sacrament of anointing in preparation for an upcoming surgery. When I was going to classes at Sacred Heart, I remember sitting in Father Daniel Jones’ class on the sacraments, and asking him about the power of the sacraments. As a Protestant, I had attended many healing services, and had even once received physical healing through the intercession of an elder (a story for another time). But so often, the sacrament of anointing does not produce physical healing — in fact, it is most often given at the end of life, to one who is near death. What, then, was the point?

I’ll never forget his answer. “The real power in the sacrament is not physical healing alone, but spiritual healing. Sooner or later, we all die. Even those Jesus healed, sooner or later, succumbed. The power in the sacrament is often to strengthen the faithful for whatever lies ahead — be it death, or convalescence, or (in some cases) return to physical health.”

In a way, the sacrament is like a mother’s arms. Sometimes those arms are comforting and even healing as we hold the crying child, apply the bandages, take the temperature. Sometimes those arms are unpopular and unwanted as we prevent her from doing something she really, really wants to do but that would not be good for her.

And sometimes, like yesterday, a mother’s arms are called upon to become harsh and unyielding, to do the really difficult thing: to restrain our child to receive a painful treatment. We allow her to endure the pain, the horror, the fear, the anger. And we stay with her, holding and comforting as best we can, all the while.