Everyone has heard stories about the healing power of prayer. Atheists talk crap about the gullible believers, or the scandalous faith-healers raking in piles of dough from the afore-mentioned gullible believers. On the other hand, everyone who has faith in God has some sort of story about a relative who had this condition or that disease, who was prayed over, and who was miraculously healed. Maybe it was cancer that disappeared, or a chronic pain that plagued someone for years. The stories all share the same cause/effect relationship – so and so was prayed over, and they got better.
As a skeptic, I used to have some usual responses to those sorts of stories. I certainly didn’t think that a miracle was involved. It was, to me, more likely. . .
1) The placebo effect – these people only got better because they believed they would get better.
2) Deception – people were lying in these stories, either outright (because they had something to sell or gain from people believing) or lying to themselves (exaggerating how sick they were before prayer, to make the story more dramatic – and thus, to support their faith).
3) Coincidence – a broken clock is right twice a day.
Did I accept the possibility that a miracle might have occurred? Sure. It’s a big universe out there, and I figured that anything is possible. But for me, there’s a huge gap between “anything is possible” and “anything is probable”. So while I could intellectually accept that miracles could happen, making my skepticism less hard-core than others’, I still disbelieved almost 99% of the faith healing stories I heard. They were too common. Possibility, again, does not in any way indicate probability.
How embarrassing, then, to have my own faith-healing story to tell.
Disclaimer: If you keep reading, you’ll learn more about my digestive processes than you want to know. I guaran-friggin-tee it.
Disclaimer: Seriously. You’ve been warned.
So here goes.
I’m at the Blue Ocean conference I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, and it’s the Friday evening session. For those of you who have never attended a church conference, in some ways it’s like a regular church occasion. There’s a worship band playing, and people do some praying in general, and at some point there will be some kind of prayer for specific people in the audience. Maybe there’s a prayer team that feels that they have messages from God for someone present, or maybe there’s just a call out – does anyone want or need prayer? You can hold up your hand and someone will come pray for you.
(I know it sounds creepy. It’s really not.)
Anyway, so I’m at the Friday session of the conference, and all that stuff is going on. One of the pastors visiting the conference comes to the stage. He says they have received some visions that people are in need of healing. He throws out some ailments they have received visions about. Someone has a sore throat. Someone has a pain in their left leg. Someone has irritable bowel syndrome.
Of course, I think. Of course he called out irritable bowel syndrome.
IBS is the Mitchell Family Curse. All of my siblings have it. I’ve had it since my teens. It’s a constant plague. When I’m going on a long trip, I take medication for my condition the night before I get into the car. And I don’t take a little medication – I pop maybe four Imodium AD’s and nuke my system into submission. And sure, after that, I may not poop for something like four days, but hey – I’ve never once in my life had a surprise attack of constipation. I’ve never said the words, “Could you please pull off at the next exit, I really have to not poop,” when driving down the highway.
I have, on many occasions, said the opposite.
So there I am, sitting in this chair at the Mercy Vineyard Church, and somebody is supposed to get prayer for IBS. I really didn’t feel like raising my hand. . . for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve had IBS for literally my entire adult life. I’ve adapted. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just part of being a Mitchell. Second, I really didn’t want to put my neonatal faith to the test. What if I raised my hand, got prayer, and I still had IBS? Would my faith in God, delicate as it is, survive such a challenge? And third. . . do I really want to tell someone I have IBS?
Well, I thought, what have I got to lose? I don’t know that the “vision” was for me. It could be for someone else in this room. So why not?
I raise my hand. The guy next to me, who I’d chatted with a bit that night, was already praying for someone. He gestures to a friend of his, and this dude named “Boomer” came over. Boomer was described to me as a “rock star” and I was told I was in good hands. He did, in fact, appear to be awesome, so I was on board for this little prayer-thing. If nothing else, I could chit-chat with Boomer, and we’d be rock stars together.
Side note – I normally ask permission before I name-drop somebody, but I don’t have any contact info for Boomer. If anyone knows him, will you throw a line my way so that I can contact the guy and thank him for being the kind of guy who I assume would be cool with me using his name? And if you know Boomer well enough to know he would totally hate me name-dropping him, could you maybe not tell him I did this?
Then, right after Boomer came up, my friend Lindsey walks over in response to my raised hand. Lindsey is a total sweetheart. She’s the wife of one of my church’s associate pastors, and she’s always been really nice to me and the fam. But now I had to tell Lindsey about my digestive ailments, and while we were friendly, I didn’t think we’d reached the “talk to me about your poop” stage of our friendship just yet.
Still, I couldn’t very well say “Oh hi Lindsey, how are you, could you please go away so you can live in ignorance of how gross I am?” That would be rude and completely uncalled-for. And I like Lindsey. So I tell Lindsey and Boomer that yeah, I was the IBS guy. I quickly explained the things that I have told you – Mitchell Family Curse, all my adult life, yadda yadda yadda – and I told them that I had no realistic expectation of it going away anytime soon. Not to cast doubts on God’s ability to get rid of digestive ailments – simply that I figured there was someone in the audience who probably had it worse than me, and God was probably talking about them. I even say something to the effect of, “So no pressure, Lord,” which gets a little chuckle. Then they get to prayin’. Hands on my shoulders, everyone’s head is down, Boomer starts praying and asking God to heal me of irritable bowel syndrome – and for that healing to extend through me to everyone in my family.
Nice touch, I thought. Way to go Boomer. Raisin’ the stakes!
Boomer is done, and we all go quiet for maybe sixty seconds, heads down, hands on my shoulders. Then Lindsey speaks up.
“I’m getting an image of a person dancing, and they keep tripping over themselves because their rhythm is off. I keep seeing that your body doesn’t have good rhythm. So I’m going to pray for God to help your body find rhythm.” And that’s what she does.
Now, just for the record, I generally have pretty good rhythm. I was in a doo-wop quartet during my junior and senior years of high school (calm yourselves, ladies) and I was the “snapping guy” along with singing bass. So rhythm isn’t usually my problem. But hey, Lindsey says my body needs rhythm, I’m gonna go with it.
So they pray for me, Lindsey and Boomer, and we have this really great conversation afterward, and we depart and move on with our lives. I make it through the rest of the conference, go home, and don’t really think about the prayer for a couple of days. During that time I had no crazy moments of my bowel being irritated, but that was to be expected – I had, of course, nuked the crap out of my stomach with Imodium AD the night before the conference, and it would take a few days to get out of my system. Then those days continued to stretch out. I’d told Brandi about the prayer, and one day she notices. She looks at me and says, “When was the last time you were sick?”
Well, I tell her, it was about two days before the conference.
She thinks about that. “Isn’t the Imodium out of your system by now?”
I tell her it probably was, based on all previous experience. But what I hadn’t told her was that something else had changed – something far less embarrassing than IBS, but something that had not been mentioned during the prayer session.
For the past year, I’ve been having premature ventricular contractions in my heart. These are basically harmless little “bumps” in your regular heartbeat. Have you ever had a moment where, for no reason, your heart “skipped a beat?” That’s probably a PVC. They’re nothing more than annoying, but I was getting them a lot. I mean, most days I’d have a “skipped beat” maybe ten times a day. That was average. On some days, I’d feel a PVC every five seconds or so, for sometimes hours. I once went to the emergency room after an 8-hour work day with PVC’s every five to ten seconds. It was scary, but they hooked me up to all the machines in the world and told me I was fine, sent me home, and charged me $800.
But here’s the thing. I haven’t had a single one since that day of prayer.
Now, in the interest of fairness, I should submit my story to the same test I submitted all stories of failing healing to. Let’s see if I am now going on two weeks without IBS or PVC’s because of. . .
1) The placebo effect – Seems unlikely. I’ve never been healed by faith before, and I had no reasonable expectation of it working. I wasn’t even sure it was for me.
2) Deception – Well, this one is easier. I definitely am not making this story up, just to rep faith healing on a blog that very few people read. And I’m pretty sure I’m not deceiving myself. Can I prove that? No. You readers can either trust that I’m not deceiving myself, or believe that I am. Either way, like Bobby Brown says, that’s your prerogative.
3) Coincidence – Not out of the realm of possibility. However, it’s been two weeks since my IBS kicked in. I haven’t gone two weeks without an attack of IBS since. . . ever. I cannot remember ever going two weeks. But the PVC’s? I haven’t had a day without PVC’s in over a year. Some days have a lot of them, and some days only have a few of them. But none? Nope. That’s weird. It would take more faith for me to believe that I have just been lucky enough to not have PVC’s than it takes to have the faith that Lindsey and Boomer prayed for me and I got better.
You know the funny thing about premature ventricular contractions? Ventricular contractions are a kind of fail-safe for the heart. If the nerve telling your heart to beat regularly stops working, your ventricles contract automatically to keep your heart beating. The problem with PVC’s is, well, they’re premature. It isn’t your heart skipping a beat, so much as your ventricles contracting when they don’t need to.
It’s almost as if . . .
. . . wait for it. . .
. . . their rhythm is off.
*drops the mic and walks off stage*