The Leprosy Year

I keep a kind of journal. I say “kind of” because it’s on my laptop, which gives it less of an old-fashioned feel but drastically improves the spelling. So I usually just imagine the Microsoft Word document in a leatherbound volume with perfect calligraphy handwriting that I could never have anyway and reconcile myself to it.

And if you call it a diary, I will punch you.

And if you call it a diary, I will punch you.

In the journal, I process all my emotions so I don’t make decisions based on them, which is probably the only way I can ever come across as a halfway rational, functioning member of society.

My future self will evaluate this strategy and decide whether it was emotionally healthy or not, but for right now, it seems to be working better than the alternatives. Everyone around me should be extremely grateful for my journal, because it means you don’t have to deal with me bursting into tears or angry rants all the time without warning. (Also, I don’t need Facebook to be my personal, unedited journal. You’re welcome for that too.)

A lot of the entries in my journal hurt. They are the raw parts of me—the hidden fears and quiet shames, the unforgiven hurts and unrequited feelings and unmet needs and things that won’t be fixed, not quite, until heaven. There are happy parts too, but I don’t often need help processing positive emotions. “Woohoo! Hugs and cookies for everyone!” seems to work as a standard approach in those situations.

Looking through my journal recently, I noticed two interesting things: I tend toward melodrama (okay, that wasn’t too surprising) and the journal is missing a year.

A whole. Entire. Year. It’s like I fell into an emotional coma for twelve months or something.

Which is kind of what happened. The first year I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone wasn’t awful or dramatic or full of tragic tales of things falling apart. It was just emotionally and relationally quiet. I had a lot of new “being an adult” skills to learn, a lot of change to process, a lot of people I didn’t know beyond a name and face. There just wasn’t room to feel too much, so that got bumped back on the priority list, saved for a “later” that took a long time to come.

Given the rest of the journal’s contents, you might think this is a really good thing. There wasn’t a hint of drama, no conflicts to sort out, no angry letters I’d never send, no crushes or longings or stresses or strife.

Except it’s not a good thing, guys. In fact, it’s kind of like leprosy.

“Excuse me, what?” says the person who isn’t quite used to my weirdness yet.

Fun fact: when I was in jr. high, I thought, “What is this strange disease mentioned in the Bible?” So I researched it, partly because I am hopeless nerd, and partly because I was secretly afraid that I’d accidentally get leprosy (forget the rotting-flesh zombie image, for an extrovert, there was literally no worse disease than one that isolated you from basically everyone you knew).

One thing that I came away with—besides the fact that you should not do a Google image search for leprosy unless you possess a stronger stomach than I do—is the necessity and even beauty of pain. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. We feel it so that we can rush to the aid of whatever body part is being smashed, sliced, burned, or otherwise disturbed.

People with leprosy lose the ability to feel anything, starting in some parts of their body and spreading. That means every cut could get infected if they didn’t notice it was there. Every minor injury could lead to consequences much, much worse than the original problem (see aforementioned zombie image).

Leper

This was an illustration in a novella I read and loved as a jr. higher, The Leper by Sigmund Brouwer.

Pastors who preach on the story of the leper healed in Matthew 8 often point out that Jesus chose to heal the leper with a touch—that Jesus made the unclean clean by doing the one thing society forbade him to do…and the one thing that would mean the most to the suffering man. I’ve often thought about the fact that the first thing the leper felt was the hand of Jesus giving him healing and freedom and love.

I’ve rarely thought about the fact that it wasn’t the last thing he felt. I wonder, did a rock cut his sandaled feet on his way to present himself to the priest to be declared clean? And did he cry for joy with the pain he felt? Maybe. But how long did it take before that joy went away?

Once he was healed, his muscles ached and head throbbed and stomach turned and skin burned with fever…and his body eventually gave up functioning altogether, his last breath pushed out with the pain he had welcomed at first.

Maybe more importantly, once he was among people again, his feelings were hurt and principles mocked and heart broken…and everything in him must have wondered if it might be better to go back to silence and solitude.

Sometimes, I hurt for that man. I hurt for me. I hurt for all of us. And I write and I cry and I feel. And I wonder, “How can it be worth it?”

But it is. I promise you, whatever you are going through right now, it is worth it.

You know how I know? Because Jesus doesn’t heal someone to a condition worse than where he was before. He enabled the leper to feel physical pain and to return to society where he would encounter every other kind of pain…and that was grace. Which goes to show that God’s grace in our lives doesn’t always look like what we think it will. Often, God calls us to discomfort and suffering and inconvenience. Sometimes, he calls us to pain.

But it is better than everything we knew before. It is better than what we would be without it, without him. There’s a reason I turn to the Beatitudes on the hard days, the same reason they’re dog-eared and written deep in the hearts of the ones who have suffered the longest. It’s because they tell the truth about God and life and what it means to be blessed—to have nothing and everything all at once.

Healing isn’t the same thing as final, complete salvation. That’s what the prosperity gospel gets wrong. God’s kingdom does not fully reign here, and his story isn’t completed, so we’re not promised a life full of wealth and devoid of suffering. Not yet. We are still in this fallen world. Things still hurt, and we still hurt each other, and my journal will get longer and longer.

But I see those pages, and I wouldn’t want them to be blank, not anymore. I wouldn’t give up even one of the people who sometimes hurt and annoy and confuse me, because I love them. I wouldn’t want one entry deleted, wouldn’t ask to be given another Leprosy Year, because the pain is worth it. And it always will be.

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