A Time of Discernment


By Sandy Hodge


Suggested Scripture Readings:
1 Kings17:8-23
Psalm 126
Ecclesiastes 4:12
Mark 2:1-12


“I have bad news. The last round of chemotherapy did not affect the tumors; in fact, they grew by thirty percent. I do not have a treatment to recommend. Many people would go home and enjoy the time they have left.” What do you do when your doctor says these words to you? How do you make a decision?

Carol wanted her decision to be one coming from her faith. So she invited about twenty-five of her friends to gather for a time of discernment. And we came. We came because we wanted to help Carol, and we came to face our own grief and concern about the devastating news the doctor had given.

We gathered around an altar with some of Carol's favorite symbols of faith: A simple wooden cross, an angel, green plants, and many candles. These were the symbols that brought comfort, that brought the Holy to her.

We read Mark 2 together, hearing again the story of Jesus and the paralytic, wondering at friends who cared enough and who believed enough to tear a hole in the roof and lower their sick friend to Jesus. How would we carry Carol to the Healer? How could we help her find wholeness in the midst of living with an aggressive cancer? We did not know how we would be led, but we all wanted to support Carol and to help her move toward wholeness, toward the Healer.

Carol shared her medical history and the options that had been given to her. Should she follow traditional medical treatment, which had made her very sick and had not affected the cancer, or try alternative healing practices? We then spent time asking for guidance from God, either individually or in smaller groups. Some sat in silence, others talked quietly, others went for walks in the neighborhood. Each of us hoped and prayed for guidance.

There were no clear instructions for Carol when we returned to the altar. But there were echoes of directions from many different voices in the group. We were surprised with how many of the same insights had come from different individuals and different small groups.

We closed our time with worship, including the Lord's Supper. We laid hands on Carol and prayed for wholeness as she made decisions over the next day. And through our tears and laughter, we had a sense of the Holy with us and with Carol.

Carol's tumors continue to grow. It is hard for her to eat now. She visits an Amish healer, takes her herbs, and uses healing touch and prayer as treatment. When I revisit the scripture in Mark 2, I am reminded that Jesus' first words to the paralytic were “Your sins are forgiven”—forgiveness that was based on the faith of those audacious friends who wouldn't let crowds and earthen roofs stand in their way. Jesus gave him wholeness first—forgiving sins—reuniting him with the community and with God. In Mark's account, physical healing came second—and only as proof of Jesus' mission to sinners and to the “left-out.”

As I spend time with Carol there are moments when I feel her wholeness, I feel her joy at the love that surrounds her, and I feel God with her. It doesn't make it OK that Carol is hurting and sick. But on Sunday morning, I look around our congregation at those who participated in Carol's day of discernment, and I feel a holy connection. The bread and the cup are passed from hand to hand as the words ring out, “Because there is one loaf, we, as many as we are, are one body.” And I believe that is the connection that is helping us walk these days with Carol and giving us strength for what is ahead.


Spiritual Practice

Quiet yourself for a moment, and think of a decision that is before you.

Imagine that you are in a room with an altar in the center and chairs around it. The chairs are filled with people who can help you discern direction in the situation you are facing.

Who is gathered? Take a moment to listen to what each one has to say about the decision you are trying to make.

After you have finished listening, turn your attention to the altar. What objects are present? How do they bring the holy to you? What significance might they have as you discern direction?

As you conclude your meditation, feel the support of God and the people gathered with you.

From “A Time of Discernment” by Sandy Hodge in Alive Now, May/June 1996. Copyright © 1996 by The Upper Room. Used with permission.