When ‘No’ is the Best Answer

The year is 1967. I am 17 years old. Stuck. Paralyzed on a Stryker frame in the geriatric ward of a state institution. The dark-shadowed room can’t match the black cloud hanging over me. I am desperate, looking for a miracle. What young girl lying num and motionless with tubes running in and out of her wouldn’t be?

O God, will You please heal me? I whisper, crying in the night. It was the first time I had prayed for an out-and-out miracle. A prayer prompted by a friend who had sat by my bedside earlier in the day, reading the passage from John 5:2-9 about the man at the Pool of Bethesda.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda….One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured, he picked up his mate and walked (NIV).

It was the part about being invalid for 38 years that got me. Please Lord, I can’t live without the use of my hands or legs for three days, let alone 30 years! I am not like that man by the Pool of Bethesda. Be compassionate to me, like you were to him. Heal me! I imagined myself among the many that day when Jesus walked by the pool. I saw the columns and tiled porches. I felt the dray, dusty air. There I was, lying on a straw mat, Jesus eyes meeting mine. His heart sensing my desperation. Stepping over others to kneel by my mat. He reaches down in compassion, touching my cheek and yes saying,”Daughter, be healed.” The power of the image caused a muscle spasm, and my body shook in anticipation O, God, yes, I believe You want to heal me. I believe! Raise me up, I ask. You put me in the pool too! I strained to rise from my Stryker. But my legs and hands never got the message.

The year is 1998. More than 30 years have passed since that dark night in the hospital. I abandoned long ago those desperate times of prayer, those urgent pleadings that Jesus might heal me too, like the man at the pool of Bethesda. And suddenly I’m here. Not healed, but here at the actual Pool. Ken and I are vacationing in Israel, touring Jerusalem and without knowing it, we turn to cobblestone corner and oh my goodness, where’s the Pool…the ruins of the five colonnades, the steps leading down to the water.

I look around and in my mind’s eye see hundreds of sick and pralyzed people. I turn to Ken and remark, “You wouldn’t believe how many times I used to picture myself here.” I scan the ruins and murmur, “And now after 30 years, I’m here.” Tears well up in my eyes. “I made it.” I say weakly, resting my arm on the guardrail. “Jesus didn’t pass me by. He didn’t overlook me. He answered my prayer. He said no.” And I’m glad. A “no” answer has purged sin from my life, strengthened my commitment to Christ and forced me to depend on grace. It has bound me with other believers, produced discernment, disciplined my mind and taught me to spend my time wisely. It has stretched my hope, increase my faith and strengthened my character. Being in this wheelchair has meant knowing Christ better. Feeling His strength every day.

The noonday sun is high, and a brisk win dries my tears. Nobody is at the Pool this time of day. The quiet moment becomes a milestone, an alter of remembrance. The Lord brought me here that I might tell Him, no that I might thank Him for the wiser choice, the better answer, the richer path. “And Lord, I say out loud, gazing at the dusty, bare porticos and imagining them crowded with the many that day who did not get healed, “thank You for giving me the chance to tell others that sometimes no is a better answer. Sometimes healing happens on the inside.”

Are you OK?” Ken touches my cheek. “Yes.” I sniff and laugh. I can’t believe I’m crying and laughing at the same time. There are more important things in life than walking

– Joni Eareckson Tada

(this email was forwarded by my sister 12 years ago, on 27 Aug 2000)

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