Twelve-plus years of pain, longing for relief. Some would say that I do not own the pain. Technically, they would be correct. My body does not own the pain; still, it ravages me. My husband grapples with a disease that demands daily attention to pain and loss. Sometimes the volume is turned down, but it is never turned off. I watch. I cry. I wrestle with denial. It leaks into my sleep, colors my attention in the present and my hope for the future. I strive to adopt a “new normal” attitude, to “keep on keeping on.” Underneath it all, I am weary of maintaining the façade. Then, when I least expect it, I stumble into a holy encounter with Jesus.

My vocation involves trauma therapy. So, curious to watch Jesus at work, I chose to read trauma narratives in Scripture and came to this familiar story:

Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” The woman was well from then on. Matthew 9:20-22, The Message

Here was a woman conversant with the consuming pain of a drawn-out struggle. In her culture, bleeding equaled isolation and little hope for change. Maybe she longed for a tender touch, but she lived resigned to a life of exclusion, loneliness, low energy, pain, and loss. Did she accept her status as a little less than human? Did she search for ways to bring order to the chaos bleeding through her life? Her resilience and ability to act on even a glimmer of hope is astounding.

Alone in the crowd surrounding Jesus, she slipped in behind him. Fingers extended, she hoped to brush the hem of his garment, be healed, then quietly slip away. I wonder what would have happened if her story had ended there? Thankfully, we will never know. Jesus wanted more for her then she thought possible. He wanted wholeness. He brought her face-to-face in front of spectators. How scary, mortifying, and wonderful. He offered a gift she forgot existed. Twelve years of suffering had erased the expectation of real welcome. Jesus made eye contact, restoring personhood, dignity, and a hopeful future right in front of the crowd.

“Courage, daughter…now you’re well,” Jesus said.

Twelve years of medical and relational trauma. I could not stand apart from the story or make this a professional exercise.

“Courage, daughter.” Those words penetrated my distance.

This is my story too. I am also desperate for relief. So right along with this woman, I creep up behind Jesus, wanting to touch his robe. The desire for relief can stand in my way. Prized above all else, relief becomes a curtain pulled over a deeper desire to thrive again. I know wanting out of something is not the same as being healed. Armed with this truth, I walk back into the story, praying for courage to let myself listen and see.

Jesus invites me to step out of hiding and come face-to-face with him too. Not in a harsh “look me in the eye when I’m talking to you” kind of way. Too often I assume this is the tone of God’s heart. How wrong I am when I shrink from his gaze in fear. In Jesus’ eyes I see compassion, a desire for my wholeness. I feel as if he bends toward me, cradles my face in his hand, and raises my eyes to meet his eyes. My façade disintegrates in his presence. He frees me from a bent posture of shame to a wide open welcome. He sees all and says, “Courage, daughter.”

Yet, what comes next in the story provokes me. Jesus heals this woman, proclaiming, “Now you’re well.” What does that mean? Could I be well surrounded by dis ease? What would that look like? I do not have full answers. I keep bringing back to Jesus my struggle to understand. I want resolution, a formula, or four steps leading to a good outcome. I want to go back to study this woman, her culture, or anything that offers me distance, but to do so is to move in the opposite direction of life.

I am reminded that relief and wellness are not necessarily the same, but I continue to seek a special bow to tie around my encounter with Jesus. For now, Jesus asks me to stay close. He asks me to come barefaced, open to a deeper way, and I accept his gracious invitation. I come trembling, hungering to know him as sustenance, nourishment,  and the true bread of life, no matter the pain.

Rita J. Platt and her husband reside in the Columbia, Maryland area where she offers trauma counseling through her practice, LifeFlow Counseling and Wellness. Experiencing connection with a God, who is both tender and powerful, compels her to open space for others to sit in his compassionate care. Additionally, as an author and speaker, Rita invites restoration. She is an avid reader and loves exploring new places and making music.