As someone who has prayed for the healing of my daughter for years, reading Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon was bittersweet. I love stories of miraculous healing and lives lived in a deep faith that seems like insanity or naiveté to others. Pullinger tells such a story and it is breath-taking. With a boldness few of us possess, she took a leap off the cliff of her calling and saw God’s hand in countless lives, interactions, and dangerous situations. She wasn’t naïve, she was faithful. She wasn’t insane, she was following what she knew to be God’s leading. She and God worked (and continue to work) in a mighty way on the streets and alleyways of Hong Kong, even in the darkly desperate Walled City of Kowloon where lawlessness and filth were pervasive. The stories she tells of lives changed, addictions healed, and even families restored are amazing.
I couldn’t help thinking of all of us who have taken a leap of faith only to wind up sitting next to a loved one in yet another hospital, begging God, in the living name of Jesus, to not only spare that person, but fully heal them. I thought of my friend who called us together to lay hands on her swollen belly and ask God to let her baby live, only to wind up having us with her at the hospital as she delivered the child stillborn. And what about that family member who slips further and further away from faith, and reality?
What did Jackie Pullinger do that we didn’t? Was her faith simply stronger? Were the lives saved by her prayers and love more important than the lives that we prayed for? I simply can’t believe God operates that way, but I also don’t have a full explanation as to why Pullinger saw so many miracles, and our prayers seemed to go into the void.
In the deaths, illnesses, and devastating losses, I have noticed that God truly draws near to the brokenhearted. I have also noticed that miracles like those in Chasing the Dragon just aren’t as common in the United States. When I was in Brazil, I saw people who lived brokenhearted every single day of their lives, yet they were filled with joy. Completely without food or money, they prayed expecting God to come through – and food would be dropped off on their front steps or someone would “remember” to pay them back money owed. Churches prayed, and the government reversed detrimental rulings. Mothers prayed, and their children came home from dangerous situations. After we came home, I wondered why I felt like the airplane had brought me further from the presence of God. It’s not like God spends more energy on the people of Brazil, or that the United States is void of the deeply faithful. I know plenty of godly people in the United States who wear holes in the knees of their pants from praying relentlessly. Why does it all feel so much more disconnected here?
I think it must be me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Pullinger or the people I met in Brazil had more faith than me in their prayers. I don’t think I somehow did it ‘wrong’ or that God couldn’t hear me because of my sin, or any of the hundreds of other clichés that get thrown at those of us who pray diligently for healing only to have the answer be an apparent, “no.” I know God doesn’t work like that. If I believed that was in God’s character, I would walk away and never look back. But I also know that my world tends to be filled with things that distract me from my broken-heartedness. When struggle comes, I push through on my own until I come to the end of myself, where finally I throw myself at God’s feet and beg for help. Pullinger and my friends in Brazil live in that place. They came to the end of themselves long ago and realized that only the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit can truly change hearts.
I should probably add here that I don’t think my distracted faith is why my daughter wasn’t healed. I don’t know why that was, but I have traced God in the midst of her illness. It wasn’t disconnected faith that caused my friend’s baby to be stillborn, but God was there with us while we held her and God has done a remarkable thing in that family through the pain. I say I think it’s me because I am the one who feels disconnected. I am the one who loves God, but maybe not with my WHOLE heart, mind, soul, and strength. God hears my cries and comes alongside me. But the miracles don’t happen. Do I believe they will the way Pullinger and other like her do? I honestly don’t know.
I don’t have any answers for the hard “why” questions. I can only look at the miracles in awe and praise God for the way they happened and the way they changed lives in generation after generation. I think also, though, I can use the slight twinge of jealousy to remind myself, and others, that God is near to the brokenhearted, and even more so to those whose hearts break for the same things that break God’s heart. Can I come close enough to the end of myself to keep those things at the forefront of my prayers? Can I surrender my plans and distractions to even a call to get on a slow boat to another part of the world – or to get on with the business of REALLY loving my neighbor?
 Psalm 34:18