Not long ago, I had emergency surgery, a terrifying experience for both my husband and me.
For over a month afterwards, friends looked after us, providing our meals, filling our home with flowers and cards and walking me back to reasonable fitness. Friends with their own troubles and challenges still take the time to pray for me and encourage me as I walk my cancer trail.
Someone asked me recently where I found meaning in that experience, where I thought God might be in it all. I answered that the greatest lesson for me is simply learning to be still and receive—from my friends, to be sure, but also from the divine Friend whose grace and generosity flow through the acts of my friends.
I was raised in the Church of Perpetual Responsibility. Allowing others to take continual care of me, therefore, is a challenge. During my convalescence, I am learning to say “no” more often—and the world hasn’t ended. I’m learning to ask for help and even give tasks away completely—and the people who step up in my stead are still talking to me.
Most of all, I’ve experienced divine love in the actions of my friends. I’m learning to look behind the loving act and see the Source of all love, pouring grace into my days.
The paralyzed man whose friends brought him to Jesus to be healed had a group of supportive, godly friends too. On that day four of them did the heavy work, carrying him on an improvised stretcher through the streets of Capernaum. Others accompanied, watching for hazards, perhaps taking turns as stretcher bearers.
But the house where Jesus was teaching was full to bursting, surrounded by a crowd who had gathered in the street to listen. They could not penetrate the mass of people and enter the building. Instead, somehow, they hauled their friend up to the rooftop.
Then they broke through the roof.
Did you get that? Driven by love and hope for their friend, they partially destroyed the roof of the house where Jesus was a guest! They would do anything for their friend’s well-being.
Finally, they lowered the stretcher down through the break they had made, so that their friend lay right in front of Jesus. And when Jesus saw their faith, he was moved to heal the man.
It sounds like the healing took place in a moment. But healing is seldom like that. As I recall how every kind word or act from my friends erased a memory of fear or pain, I believe that man’s healing began with the daily actions of his friends.
Though we meet these characters at the climax of their story, it’s pretty clear that the friends have willingly looked after him for years, without expectation of return.
He could do nothing for himself, let alone for them. He couldn’t carry water from the village well, couldn’t glean the last pickings in the fields of others. In a poor community where survival depended on everyone’s hard work, he not only couldn’t contribute, but had to depend on his friends labouring for his benefit as well as their own.
Yet he wasn’t a burden. His friends loved him so much that they could not imagine Jesus refusing the chance to heal him, just as they themselves would not turn their backs on his daily needs. For them, he was worthy, someone who did not have to earn love, but could certainly count on it.
So am I. So are we all, by the grace of our Divine Friend.
Janet Gadeski is a member of St. Christopher’s Burlington.