Sunday, June 3, 2012

You Can Make Me Clean

The Mayo Clinic says current thinking about fibromyalgia centers around a theory called central sensitization.

"Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters)."

I know about neurotransmitters because I learned about them in my addiction recovery homework. Neurotransmitters form connections in the brain to create patterns and templates to teach you how to respond to your environment. As a certain template or pattern is repeated, the neurotransmitter connections become stronger.

The phrase we use in my support group is "hardwiring." My brain was hardwired in early childhood to respond to certain things in certain ways, back when my young neurotransmitters were forming connections at lightning speed. For example, the scent of violet always makes me think of my grandmother because she wore violet perfume. I'm hardwired to associate violet with Gramma.

Specifically relating to addiction, people are hardwired to self-medicate the pain they have been carrying around in their minds for years. Addictive behaviors provide an antidote to pain in the form of dopamine, which really does act like a medication. Addicts become hardwired to medicate pain through addiction.

Scientists used to believe that once a brain's neurotransmitters had formed a connection, it was impossible to break that connection -- it was hardwired. However, later discoveries have shown that it is entirely possible to rewire a brain. It does not have to keep its old hardwiring. My brain can be retrained to form better connections so that I no longer self-medicate through addictive behavior.

This is a totally oversimplified explanation that I'm leaving tons of stuff out of because it's not what this blog post is about. But I'm sharing this bit to explain that one of the things Jeff and I ask God for as we recover from addiction is that He will rewire our brains. Romans 12:2 says that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, and it is the Holy Spirit who brings about that renewal and transformation. So we ask for it. "Jesus, please rewire my brain and renew my mind."

It's a happy prayer and I like praying it. It's totally hopeful because I know I'm asking for something that God wants for me.

So this week, when I read the bit on the Mayo Clinic website about fibromyalgia and its relationship to my neurotransmitters, I decided that just as I ask God to rewire my brain as it pertains to my emotional hardwiring and self-medicating, I could ask Him to rewire the neurotransmitters that have caused me to have fibromyalgia.

So I prayed, "Abba, please rewire my neurotransmitters that make me have fibromyalgia. I know You can do it, because You are the one who renews my mind."

See, I was praying more scientifically, so I'm sure that was really handy for God. "Hey, God. I figured out the science behind my illness, so now You can heal it! Aren't I helpful?"

Not coincidentally, my scheduled reading for the day was 2 Corinthians 12. Don't shoot me for being heretical, but for my quiet time, I've been using the NIrV to get a fresh look at Scripture. Jeff and I call it The Nerve.

In The Nerve, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 reads:

I could have become proud of myself because of the amazing and wonderful things God has shown me. So I was given a problem that caused pain in my body. It is a messenger from Satan to make me suffer. Three times I begged the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak."

It seemed like God had very graciously told me His answer to my prayer within an hour's time. He knows how my brain latches on to ideas (i.e. hardwires), and how difficult it is for me to abandon those ideas once they are fully formed. It was like He said, "Okay, let's nip this one in the bud."

But He didn't just shrug and say offhandedly, "NO. I'm not going to rewire your fibromyalgia neurotransmitters. Sorry. You're out of luck."

Instead, true to His nature, He whispered lovingly, "Becky, My grace is all you need."

The same day, I had to cancel an appointment with a friend because of a long, boring explanation that I'm bored of trying to figure out how to truncate into one sentence. But basically, I had to cancel because of fibromyalgia.

I thought my friend would be upset with me because I am hardwired to believe that other people think I am faking illness. But when I asked her if she was upset with me for cancelling, she said, "You having fibro is good for me."

Good for her? How could my having fibromyalgia be good for anybody? From where I sit, it's just a really huge pain the butt. (Puns totally intended. Get it? Pain in the... cuz four of the fibro tender points are in the... anyway...)

But my friend went on to explain that every time I cancel, she is reminded that Christ is enough. Onaccounta He is way more dependable than I am. His grace is all she needs.

Just like His grace is all I need.

Again not coincidentally, at worship practice, I discovered that one of our set songs for the week was "Your Grace Is Enough".

So all in the same day, I read 2 Cor 12, heard from a friend that my fibro is good for her, and sang "Your Grace Is Enough." Then this morning on worship team, I had the opportunity to sing "Your Grace Is Enough" four more times. What do you think God was trying to tell me?

To drive it home, the Holy Spirit preached me a sermon about God's purpose for physical healing.

The pastor's sermon was on Luke 5:12-26, where Jesus heals a leper and a paralytic. The leper comes and finds Jesus in the city and asks, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean."

I underlined that verse. It sounded just like my prayer from earlier in the week. "Abba, please rewire my fibromyalgia neurotransmitters. I know You can do it because Your Word says that You renew my mind. And get it? Neurotransmitters are in my mind, so, you know... You can make me clean."

But our pastor immediately went on to make sure we understood that the passage was not about physical healing. Jesus heals the leper, and then He heals the paralytic, and immediately following those two healing incidents, He compares Himself to a physician -- but not a physician of physical illness. A physician of spiritual illness. The Great Physician heals me not from my sickness, but from my sin. Behold, the Lamb of God! Who takes away the sins of Becky!

Our pastor said, "Can God heal people? Yes. And sometimes He does. But was that His purpose in coming to earth? No! He came to heal us from our sins."

I wondered to myself, "Why does He sometimes heal people physically and sometimes not?"

The answer was in the next part of the passage, about the healing of the paralytic. Jesus plainly states His reason for physical healing in Luke 5:24. "That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins."

Whenever Jesus heals someone physically, it is to accomplish His greater purpose: to show His power to redeem. Jesus heals people from illness to show that He can also heal them from their sins.

Have I ever once prayed that God would heal me so that He could show His glory? No. I just want to feel better. I want to be healed from fibromyalgia for my glory. Not God's. Do I need God to heal me from fibromyalgia in order for me to be able to see His power to heal me from my sin? No. He shows His work of redemption in other areas of my life, like helping me retrain my brain to stop self-medicating through addictive behavior. I see that miraculous redemption played out every day.

When God heals people, He shows Himself strong. The leper knew God could heal him. "You can make me clean," he said. But sometimes, God shows Himself strong by not healing people.

In my life, God has not shown Himself strong by making me strong. He has shown Himself strong by making me weak. He demonstrates His grace to me not by taking away my illness, but through my illness, and because of fibromyalgia, I see grace I would never have seen if I didn't have it.

I see the grace that redeems. That grace enables me to turn to God in my sin and say, "You can make me clean."

That grace does make me clean. And that grace is all I need.