Jesus asks masterful questions. One of the most masterful is his question to the invalid of thirty-eight years whom he found lying by the pool of Bethseda in Jerusalem. Jesus sees him there with the blind, the lame and the paralyzed, and asks, “Do you want to get well?” John 5:6
At first glance, this appears to be a silly question, “Of course he wants to get well!” He’s been an invalid for more than three decades; why wouldn’t he want to get well? Surprisingly, the man doesn’t directly answer Jesus’ question nor respond as I expected. Instead he makes excuses: “I have no one to help me into the pool…While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (John 5:7). I’m often quick to reel off my excuses; does it sound familiar to you, too?
Last fall I enrolled in a Counseling Skills class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from which I gleaned many helpful tips for active listening, expressing empathy and helping others. One of the best takeaways was the understanding that no one can help another person change or heal until they have decided that is what they want to do.
Many people in pain will come seeking advise and counsel and gain helpful insights into a situation or relationship or whatever it was that brought them to the decision to seek help in the first place. But until the individual decides that the pain of the current situation is worse than the pain of changing and stepping into the unknown results of change, they will listen and decide to keep on doing what they have already been doing. There isn’t a thing a counselor, spiritual director or therapist can do to help the person unwilling to own and commit to the process of change.
The text in John doesn’t specifically address this, but I can surmise that if the man were to be physically healed, his life would be drastically different. He would no longer be at the mercy of timing nor require the assistance of someone to help him into the pool; thus he wouldn’t have the same excuses anymore. Now he would have the ability to be responsible for himself and not depend on benevolence. The burden for providing for his needs and care would shift to his shoulders. That realization is what stops many from progressing further in the healing process.
Yes, we want the pain from a bad relationship, unkind words, unjust actions or bad circumstances to end, but sometimes we want to stay rooted in the hurt more than we want to do the work that full healing and restoration entails. I’ve parked in that spot, sometimes it seems like my personal reserved parking place. I’ve regularly made the choice to hang on to a hurt and repeatedly replay the tape of the wrong even when I heard God’s still small voice telling me to forgive and find healing. I claim I want healing, but do I really?
Jesus’ question is utterly powerful, and one I want to answer in the affirmative more and more. What will be your answer?