“At what point can I stop praying for healing and just accept that I’m ill?” was a question I found myself asking several months ago. I felt genuinely bruised, battered and attacked by constant unanswered prayer, especially on top of living in daily physical pain, as well as many other losses that come with illness. When someone offered to pray for me to be healed, it felt like an attack. It felt like they were saying that it wasn’t okay to accept that I was ill.
But the above question isn’t actually one, it’s two: “Can I stop praying for healing?” and “Can I accept that I’m ill?”
“Can I accept that I’m ill?”
I believe that I have, in a large part, accepted that I am unwell. From reading medical advice and anecdotal stories, I believe this is a healthy response to illness, especially a long term or incurable condition. I have to accept that I need treatment, and that I need to look after my body so that I don’t hurt myself. It’s healthy to mourn losses and move on to find new joys. If I ignore the fact that I am ill I will get worse. The sick need to accept and manage illness so that they are the healthiest and happiest they can be.
“Can I stop praying for healing?”
In the first few months of illness, I felt that there must come a time when I could stop asking God for healing. But I’ve scoured the Bible and some excellent Christian writing, and I can’t find anything that backs this up. In fact the Bible says:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” (James 5:13-15)
These verses say that we should pray all the time, whatever the circumstances, and we should pray about the situations we are in. At the very least, a faithful prayer will raise us up. I’ve found this to be true, and that actively putting my faith in God for my health by praying about it brings me renewed strength, even if it is not physical strength.
I’m also drawn to the story of the woman in Mark 5:25-34 who had been ill for many years and had for many years sought healing, but had only gotten worse. Yet upon touching Jesus’s cloak she was instantly healed! God can bring healing, even after years of suffering. Today might be the day that he chooses to show his power in my life through healing if I persist in prayer.
These two ideas do not have to be a contradiction. I can work hard to live well now that I’m ill; it does not show a lack of faith in God to take anti-depressants, attend therapy, acquire a wheelchair, take painkillers or have surgery. But I must continue to “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…” (Ephesians 6:18)