One winter vacation when I was in college, I went with my mother to a charismatic healing Mass. You could say that I had been “struggling” with depression, but that’s not really the word. I lived there. I was being swallowed whole by it, day after day, and I could not get out. Wherever people led me, I would go, whether they liked or loved me, hated me, or just found me useful. So I went with her to ask for healing, not with hope, but just because it couldn’t hurt.
The service was emotional—tacky, to be honest— and while the priest was fervid, the scattered congregation sounded sheepish and forced as they softly hooted and called “Amen!” into the chilly air of the church.
We lined up and the priest recited some words of healing—I forget them utterly—over each of us. Then he gave every forehead a firm shove, to put us off balance in case the Holy Spirit wanted to overcome anyone. A few people crumpled and passed out, snow melting quietly off their boots onto the tiled floor. Most of us just staggered a bit under the pressure, recovered, stepped around the fallen, and went back to our seats.
Well, I thought, another dead encounter with dead people in a dead world. I slid into my pew. Nothing had changed because nothing could change. I was dead, and everyone else was allowed to be alive. Why? Who knows? Someone had been sent for help, but help would not come. Help was not for me.
And then I heard these words in my head, “You made Me wait. Now you can wait for a while.” They were not my words. The tone was warm, a little sad, with a small vein of humor. I think I was being teased, chided for taking so long to send for help. You like games, talitha? All right, I will play. Now, wait.
Then I went home. Nothing happened, that I could see.
Years later, I thought of that day as I read Tomie dePaola’s The Miracles of Jesus with my four-year-old daughter. She listened attentively, but I could see that most of the wonders didn’t impress her much. In these short narratives, some kind of grown-up problem is introduced—and then poof, God solves it, The End.
I think she saw Jesus acting more or less like all adults act: making good things appear arbitrarily, making sick people feel better, occasionally being cranky and strange, and wishing people would say “thank you” more often. It was cool, but it didn’t mean much to her. They were miracles, not the kind of thing that happen in real life.
Jairus’ daughter, however, really got her attention—probably because it was about a child, and also because it was a full story, with suspense, despair, and a happy ending, plus the hint of a full life to come.
Jesus hears the news that the girl was sick, but He isn’t teleported to her bed. He walks, one foot in front of the other, on His way to her. And when He gets there, it’s too late. Her family is weeping; the girl, the poor little thing who wanted to be healed, is already dead.
My daughter got very quiet at this point. We read on:
“But Jesus said, ‘Do not weep. She is not dead. She is asleep.’
And the people only laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.
She looked at me with big eyes. They laughed at Jesus!
Jesus took her by the hand and said, ‘Child, arise.’
And her spirit returned and she got up at once. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”
At this point, my daughter hurled herself at me and gave me a big, squeezing hug. She got that part! She knows about being sad, needing help, waiting far too long, being rescued, and then having something to eat, because all these ups and downs make you hungry. And then life goes on, once you have been saved. Here was a miracle she could appreciate—the kind that’s part of a story.
I got it, too, because I knew that story. I had been that girl. And I had heard that voice. It was a long time, and a lot of steps, before my slow rescue from the dead came up to the speed where it was recognizably healing, recognizably a wonder. But I never forgot the words I heard, telling me that help was on the way. That I wasn’t really dead; I was waiting.
If you have ever lived inside a black hole; if you have moved about the world enclosed in a dome of sound proof glass, with no voices but your own voice, which you hate above all other sounds in the world; if you have felt so bad for so long that you don’t even want life to get better, you just want it to be over—then you will understand that it was very, very good to hear this voice that simply said, “You are not dead. You are only sleeping. And I am on my way.”
I was not merely sitting in that cold pew, it told me. I was sitting and waiting. Someone was with me; or at least, someone was on the way. I was happy to wait. I was happy! This was new.
That was how I began to be healed, more than twenty years ago. It was a long road of waiting, after I began to be healed. It is a long road. I’ve been in therapy for over three years, and now I’ve started spiritual direction. I don’t know what is next. The road keeps getting longer, to be honest, and every time I think I am finally healed, I see that I am not, not yet. But I can see Christ better and better as He approaches, step by step. My healing started when I asked Him, without hope, for healing.
That is what our breath is for: To call out for help. As long as we still have breath in us, we are not dead, we are only sleeping. We are not alone; we are waiting for Christ to arrive.
Can you wait a little longer? You are not dead. You are waiting.
Related reading: I thought good Catholics didn’t need therapy. Then I went.
A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.