We once did an internship as a hospital chaplain. We were assigned to an acute rehab unit. Most of the patients were recovering from a stroke or hip surgery or a like condition – they were medically stable but unable to return home.
A twelve year old boy was hit by a car and injured his brain. After a month in Children’s Mercy Hospital he was medically stable and was sent to our acute rehab. He could not use his left leg or his left arm. His parents were fundamentalist Christians – people of strong faith in a participatory God.
After a month the treatment team met with the boy and the parents. The team consisted of a Physiologist (MD), physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses, and a chaplain (me). The Doctor reported that there was sensation in the boys left foot – this indicated that he would walk again, but he would have a limp. There was no sensation in the left arm or hand. This suggested that he would never use his left arm again, it might not even grow any more. The parents were devastated.
The mother insisted that Jesus would heal her boy – they would go on a country-wide tour witnessing to the power of Jesus’s healing. The treatment team looked to the chaplain. Clearly the problem, if there was a problem, was with spirituality.
Was there fault in the mother’s logic?
This was a very difficult problem – one that is faced every day in hospitals across America.
Here was our take on the dilemma and our approach to the family. It seemed to us that the mother’s reaction was entirely understandable – she had just been told that all of her hopes and dreams for her son were gone. She heard: He would never be a Major League pitcher. He would not Captain the High School Football team. He would be technically disabled – deficient – unable to carry his load in this tough world. The mother’s grief overwhelmed her.
We felt she needed time to grieve. Grief has been characterized as have several distinct stages, beginning with denial, anger, negotiating, sadness…. The mother’s denial would not allow her to accept the words of the medical professionals. She needed time. She became angry with the doctors and nurses – but she never expressed any anger toward me. That was probably a result of social constructs which tell us to be respectful of clergy.
The mother began negotiating, negotiating with God. “Heal my son and I will carry the message of Jesus around the world. ” She told us that the only way her son would not be healed would be if her faith faltered. She put the burden of her son’s future on her faith.
We waited about a week before we suggested that God might have a plan, and it might be different than anything we humans were aware of. This brought us around to a discussion of God’s will versus our will.
Was the mother demanding that God do her will?