And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. –Matthew 8:2-3 (ESV)
“Leprosy silences nerve cells, and as a result its victims unwittingly destroy themselves, bit by bit, because they cannot feel pain.” As I read those words by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey in their book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, it became crystal clear to me what my problem was. Having spent the past 20 years in an unhappy marriage, I had become numb to pain and had unknowingly destroyed myself. If there were such a thing as leprosy of the soul, I certainly had contracted it.
Leprosy is an infection that can be present without symptoms from 5-20 years. It is characterized by lesions and damage to the nerves, limbs, and eyes. Ancient people feared it because of its hideous effects.
I imagine leprosy of the soul would be similarly characterized. However, because the soul is not visible to the human eye, the lesions and damage are not quite as obvious. Nonetheless, the hideous effects manifested in one’s personality, mannerisms, speech, and tone of voice are quite noticeable.
By the time I realized I had it, the damage had been done. Not only was I unable to feel pain, I was unable to feel much of anything. I shut myself off from all emotion. If I did feel anything, it was manifested in shame, guilt, frustration, and misery. What I didn’t realize was that by shutting myself off to pain, I was also incubating myself against joy. I felt I didn’t deserve it. Remember Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel … “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” That was how I felt.
The word leprosy is derived from the Latin word Lepra, which means “scaly”. Instead of exhibiting the Christ-like qualities that used to define me, I was beginning to look more like that slithery serpent, Satan. I certainly didn’t want that. I went from being a kind, caring, helpful person to a fearful, anxious, unhappy pessimist. I became cynical and rude. I couldn’t manage my own life very well, so eventually my desire to help others disintegrated. It was time for this broken-down Jesus girl to throw herself at Jesus’ feet and cry, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Just as leprosy is curable with treatment, so is leprosy of the soul. Whereas leprosy requires long-term doses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, leprosy of the soul requires some serious alone time with God. It requires immersing oneself in His Word (to kill off the bad bugs of stinkin’ thinkin’), quiet times of meditation (to get rid of the inflammation caused by a life that has been out of control for too long), and communing with Him in prayer (to thank Him and seek His will).
Although pain may not seem to be a blessing, those who study leprosy know this to be true. It alerts us to danger and warns us when things in our body are out of whack. We need pain like we need indicator lights on the dashboard of our car. My indicator lights have been blinking nonstop for years. I think it’s time for a tuneup with the Master Physician…
In His grace,
O, LORD God, You are the Master Physician. As such, I ask that You please heal my mind, will, and emotions so that I may be at peace and manifest Your presence to those around me. I want to reflect Your spirit to the world around me. Heal me from the inside out, everywhere that hurts. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.