Who Will Deliver Us From Our Modern Day Leprosy?
As a young boy I watched an epic movie called Ben-Hur. To date it is still one of my favorite movies. At one point in the movie, Judah Ben-Hur discovers that his mother and sister have been imprisoned in a leper colony. The scene where Judah discovers his mother and sister ravaged by leprosy is chiseled into my brain. I had never heard of leprosy before that moment. I remember turning to my mom and anxiously asking her, “What is leprosy?” My mom responded, “It’s a disease that makes body parts fall off.” I was horrified!
In time I have come to understand what leprosy is. Leprosy is a bacterium that attacks nerves at the peripheries of the human body like fingers, toes, hands and nose. The way that leprosy works is that it damages nerve endings in the body’s extremities such that people begin to loose feeling and become numb. When this happens, it is easy for injuries to start to occur to fingers and toes as they are bumped and scraped against objects. Not knowing an injury has been sustained, the person does not care for the wound properly and additional damage begins to mount. In time, infections and tissue damage start compounding and ultimately those body parts begin to turn black and fall off or get amputated.
As I think about what leprosy is and what it meant when Christ miraculously healed so many from this horrible disease, I now realize what He was doing. Jesus was restoring people’s ability to feel again; not only feeling and being aware of their own body but also feeling and being aware of the world around them.
As a mental health counselor I have started to see a trend in my practice. More and more people have come to me stating that their life feels numb and that they don’t seem to feel anything anymore. As I've reflected on these comments I've started to notice a common thread with these clients; the majority of them had previously experienced or are currently experiencing some sort of significant trauma in their life i.e. the pandemic, abuse, loss, neglect, fears etc. I recalled that one of the possible symptoms of extreme trauma is the loss of feeling or numbness in the body.
Researchers have found that one of the methods that people use to deal with high levels of stress or trauma is to stop feeling which means shutting down sensory inputs like touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound.
Many people suffering with trauma damaged lives will seek to numb themselves so that they no longer feel the pain of current or past trauma. This numbness can be achieved through a variety of methods like drugs, alcohol, pornography, risky sex, gaming, over eating and even dissociative behaviors. And, when people no longer have feeling in their own life another phenomenon can occur; that person is now incredibly vulnerable to future abuse and trauma. Why?
In the short-term, numbing one's self provides a quick way to manage triggering memories or immediate pain. But, being numb or not feeling anymore for significant amounts of time causes problems. Just like the leper, when our body becomes numb to feeling, we start to lose the ability to protect ourselves from being harmed or experience the joy of feeling connecting. The body’s sensations that once told us where we end and the world begins are offline and this can inflict long-term personal damage and separation from others. Like a modern day leper, we begin to feel like we are no longer whole and our ability to connect with others is compromised which can lead to isolation and feeling less than human; sometimes even less than a child of God.
As a therapist, it is my job to work with these people and support them as they push through the trauma that has robed their body of feeling. And as a fellow human being it is my heart felt desire to see these people feel again and feel safe. I also know there are not enough counselors to go around. But, there is one Counselor, the greatest Counselor ever, which is available to all of us.
Is it possible that Christ’s atonement and the healing powers of His grace and gospel can help us overcome the damage of living in a fallen world? Is it possible for us to have the faith to be healed from the trauma that keeps us from feeling? Is it possible for us to sense the love of others and become connected again in meaningful ways? Is it possible for us to overcome our fear of feeling pain and joy as we are lifted and lift others? Is it possible for us to be healed from our modern day leprosy and be made whole through Christ?
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
As the New Year begins, may Christ’s light ease our burdens and show us the way so that we can all feel whole, and feel hope again.
James Skeen- LPC