Admitting to the Supernatural
My experience with hesitating to discuss the miraculous.
Let me begin by thanking those of you who prayed for me last week. The answer to your prayers was so swift and dramatic that honestly I keep looking around in disbelief at how shockingly different my life has suddenly become. I’ll talk about that more below, but first, for educational purposes, we need a story about my dog.
When the kids were younger, we had a problem for a while with the back door being left open. I was sympathetic. It’s easy to not quite pull the door shut all the way. Still, it seemed like no matter how much we reminded the children to make sure the latch clicked, again and again we’d find that door wide open.
What was worse, all four kids insistently denied that they were doing it. SuperHusband and I had a likely suspect in mind as the probable chief offender. That child’s story? “The dog is opening the door.”
Sure. Good try. PLEASE MAKE SURE THE DOOR IS SHUT ALL THE WAY. The parents were losing their patience. We’d find the door open for hours at a time, the heat or air-conditioning bill would inch up . . . it was insane. And the kids just. kept. on. leaving. the. door. open.
And then one day the dog was in the backyard, and she wanted to come inside, so she came up the porch. Rather than bark or whine to be let in, she started jumping at the back door vigorously . . . and eventually she managed to both catch and depress the lever knob and push open the door in a single jump, and she was in.
She did not shut the door behind her.
Smart dog, but not too particular about the power bill.
Once I saw with my own eyes that the dog could indeed open the door, I was a believer. I apologized to the kids (probably not profusely enough) for not believing them, and I adjusted to the reality that I lived with a dog who opens doors.
Why hadn’t I believed until I saw it myself? Because I didn’t think it was possible. I believed in the existence of the dog, but I did not believe she did that. She fetched, she barked at squirrels, once she even raised a kitten, but I didn’t know she could open doors. Maybe some TV dog, or a specially-trained assistance dog, might do that? But not just a regular dog. It was completely outside of any expectation I had for What My Dog Does.
But now I don’t hesitate to tell the story because it’s pretty funny and I know it’s real. You can believe me or not, but once I had a dog who opened doors.
God’s a little more difficult to pin down.
When He acts spiritually (and He did so very powerfully in my own conversion), by definition spiritual effects are things we cannot see or smell or taste or touch. We perceive spiritual things, and others might see a change in us as a result of that spiritual experience, but there is no material, physical evidence of what happened.
This is like when a friend says a few words of encouragement in some private conversation. It really happened, it might lift you up and improve your whole day, maybe your whole life, but no one can prove that it happened. It’s just you telling people that it did.
At the other extreme, sometimes God acts so unequivocally miraculously in His intervention in the physical world that there is no doubt a supernatural wonder just occurred. The cancer that was all over the scan last week is suddenly vanished this week. Bread becomes heart tissue. A man is raised from the dead.
These physical miracles are undeniable evidence to those who experience them . . . but we who weren’t there may be skeptical. How reliable are the witnesses? Is it a hoax? An honest mistake? What are the odds there is a natural explanation?
We can easily become like my husband and I doubting the children’s story about the dog. Yes, the door is open, but who really opened it?
Meanwhile, there’s the middle category of divine intervention, and that’s where the answer to your prayers comes in.
I spent the first three weeks of August completely physically exhausted. It was not a surprising turn of events. There were depressing medical reasons for that fact. By the time I asked for prayers last week, I was going bonkers. The level of fatigue was just too much, for too long, and I was not winning any awards in the Complete Abandonment to the Will of God department.
So. I asked you to pray. I also worked on my acceptance of the Divine Will. Sunday was an ordinary day of the now-normal extreme fatigue, but at least my attitude was coming into line. If God wanted this, then I guess that would be how it is. Super good sermon on suffering from our pastor, and I conceded he wasn’t wrong.
And then at some point Sunday or Monday the switch flipped. I started to feel like a normal person. I didn’t get completely worn out and have to lay down and rest after just a small amount of light activity. I began having trouble sleeping (at all) despite an activity level that would normally result in nine or ten hours of sleep to recover. And then, after a night of very little sleep? I was fine.
It was surreal.
Just out nowhere, wham. Not a slow steady improvement. A sudden flipping of the switch and everything was different.
Okay so that’s good, but it gets weirder.
Some backstory: My usual morning prayer routine these days is to drink a cup of coffee and then randomly open my Bible to something, anything, and read and pray over whatever’s there. Sometimes I look for a particular book or passage, but usually I just open and we get what we get.
I am not always highly motivated to do this. I would rather scroll Twitter or check e-mail or get to work on whatever it is that grabbed my attention when the coffee hit. Or, maybe I can’t remember where I put my Bible. Or something. And in that case, what I’ll do (if we’re going to get at least a C+ on our holiness grade) is I’ll open Bible Gateway on the laptop and I’ll pray whatever their Verse of the Day is.
The morning that I realized everything was suddenly different? That I had asked for prayers for my health Saturday and by Monday night we were definitely seeing those prayers answered? The random Verse of the Day was from Psalm 116.
I was a lot shocked.
In all my years of clicking or opening the Bible randomly, nothing like this had ever happened to me. Lots of “Oh, yes, this is just great.” I can find edification in just about any verse of Scripture because that’s one of my superpowers (another is the ability to quick flip flip flip to a more conducive passage). Nothing, ever, has been so on-the-nose as this.
Let me be clear: There are likely natural explanations for my sudden recovery. People get better. I’ve been seriously ill before, and then I’ve gotten better. I am totally AOK with God using purely natural means to fix my life.
And of course, it’s not like Bible Gateway is just going to never have that particular psalm up on the random verse-generator.
So maybe it’s all just a bunch of coincidences. That coincidentally made it possible for me to do some things later in the week related directly to my vocation as a mother, things I had been praying and praying that God would make possible.
Fine. No complaints here. If God was taking the week off and it just looks like He answered exactly the prayer I asked for, exactly after I had given up and accepted His no? Works for me.
Like me not believing the dog could open doors, I understand totally that not everyone will believe God is the one who did this particular thing in my life. I understand that there are other logical alternative explanations for what happened. I don’t fault anyone for being skeptical, or for simply saying, “Well, I don’t know.”
And this is where we get to the complicated part of evangelizing: We need to speak up about the things that God does in our lives even knowing that others might reasonably be skeptical.
We don’t have to credulously swallow every miracle story out there. As Catholics we are free to accept or to not-accept the many (often public and widely-attested) miracles that fall into the category of “private revelation.” Even when a miracle has been thoroughly studied and vetted by the Church and held up as “worthy of belief” we are not obliged to believe in it. We’re allowed, but not required.
And, like my story of being healed this past week, we are free to hold on to a little cautious skepticism even when we ourselves are the recipients of what appears to be divine healing.
But also? Sometimes we need to talk about what we perceive God is doing in our lives.
Another thing that makes me uneasy is that I have no knowledge of exactly what this miracle entails. Am I going to hit ‘publish’ on this post and then go back to being sick? Do I have another week of being normal? Another month? The rest of my life? I have no idea. None.
So I get nervous for God. What if I tell people He did this thing, and it turns out it was only a very brief favor?
When I think that way, I’m boxing God in. I’m trying to make Him conform to a set of non-existent checkboxes concerning Rules on Miracles. I’m worrying about what will happen to His reputation if I point out He did something nice for me, but it’s not nice enough to satisfy His critics.
Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed my week of being normal. So I’m grateful for that. It’s been a good week — it’s been a godsend — regardless of what happens later today or later in my life.
When we share our experiences of God intervening in our lives, we don’t have to know everything. We tell what we do know: I was this before, and now everything is different.
Photo: The late, great Best Dog in the World posing with her frisbee.
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