A Real Friend

Healing Naaman and Me – Part 7

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. – 2 Kings 5:13-14

So Naaman’s mad. And headed back home. Back to status quo.

Going back home and bathing in his homeland’s rivers – even if he had to do it seventy times – would be more comfortable than bathing in a new river, in a foreign land, and exposing himself to strangers.

But Naaman’s servants caught up with him. Other translations use the words ‘came near’. We all need friends who aren’t afraid to come near, to get close to us when we’re behaving badly. When we’re overreacting. When we’re making decisions based on our emotions.

And notice that Naaman’s servants called him Father. To me that shows they cared about him. And he cared about them. He wasn’t just their boss, he was their friend. There was a loving, caring relationship between them, and they really wanted him to be healed. They wanted it badly enough to risk confronting him in his anger.

Now that takes a real friend.

We all need friends like that when we’re on our journey to healing and recovery. I didn’t have one when I started out . . . unless you count the therapist that sent me to the CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous) meetings! But I found one at those meetings. When we met, we immediately clicked. We had a lot in common. We were in similar situations. And we discovered we both liked to walk. So we started walking together at least once a week.

On those walks, we would share what was going on in our lives. That first year, things didn’t go well for either one of us. There were some really dark times. But for the first time in my life, I was willing to open up and share what I was really going through with another human being. That, in itself, was very healing.

We encouraged each other to keep going when things got tough. We reminded each other to speak up for ourselves and do what’s right instead of continuing to enable the dysfunction in our situations.

It took a lot of walks, a lot of miles, a lot of talking, but eventually our lives turned around. Our situations changed. We gained a healthy perspective about our lives up to that point. Our self-image and self-esteem grew and blossomed and we became women who knew their value.

We’re still good friends and we still go on long hikes and talk about what’s going on in our lives. We even remained close while I lived over a thousand miles away for six years. There’s a bond between us that can’t be broken. We went through Hell together. That kind of relationship can’t be replaced.

As you recall, Naaman had expected a big production and an immediate healing. That’s typically what we want to happen, isn’t it. I know I did. I wanted the people who were causing me so much grief to realize the error of their ways, repent, tell everyone involved they had been wrong, and get help for their issues.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen that way.

And I’m so glad it didn’t.

The healing and recovery process is rarely instantaneous. There are times when God does heal a situation or an issue in our lives immediately and we don’t have to deal with it again. But I believe those times are the exception, not the rule.

I believe that most of the time we have to take the long road to healing and recovery. We have to deal head-on with our issues. We have to learn to live with and around people who aren’t dealing with theirs. We have to take responsibility for what we’re responsible for. And stop taking responsibility when we’re not. And that’s a lot easier said than done.

Naaman’s servants asked him a very interesting question. If Elisha had told him to do some grand deed in order to be healed, would he have done it?

Naaman was used to doing grand deeds. He was a war hero. He was a valiant soldier. Give him a village to conquer and he would get it done. Give him a hometown to defend against an attack and it would be saved. Tell him to go conquer a neighboring country in order to be healed, and he’d be on it like white on rice.

But to have to humble himself, to keep going further out of his comfort zone, to reveal his weakness to total strangers, to consistently take small steps over and over again . . . that was just asking too much.

His servants . . . his real friends . . . helped him put the situation in perspective. And Naaman calmed down long enough to realize it was worth a try.

My friend and I took many steps . . . literally and figuratively . . . on our journey. Sometimes it was 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, but we consistently took the next step, were honest with each other, and encouraged each other along the way. That’s what brings healing and recovery: taking small healthy steps consistently until eventually it becomes the norm in your life.

That’s what Naaman had to do.

I love that it says he ‘went down’ because in order to heal and recover we have to be humble. If the circumstances your issues created haven’t humbled you enough, the journey to healing and recovery will . . . if you stick with it.

Elisha told Naaman to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wear clothes when I take a bath. I don’t think Naaman did either.

Taking off anything that’s covering up the real us is an absolute necessity of the healing and recovery process. We have to be honest—with ourselves and with others. We have to expose our real selves (get naked!), humble ourselves (‘go down’), and take the next step . . . bathe ourselves in the truth . . . as many times as it takes in order to heal.

After Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, it says his flesh was restored. In fact, it says it was clean like that of a young boy. His skin wasn’t just healed of leprosy, it was given a fresh start!

That’s how I felt several months into my healing and recovery process . . . like a totally different person . . . like a “new me”! That’s because I was a different person. But it had taken time and persistence and commitment.

Surrounding ourselves with at least one friend who really cares about us and encourages us to stay committed to our healing and recovery process will make the journey a little easier.

Then one day we’ll be able to return the favor by being that kind of friend to someone we love who’s struggling. As a healthier, more functional person, we’ll no longer be afraid to be lovingly honest with ourselves and with others.

And that is worth taking a million steps!

© Rhonda Fleming, 2013

I Have to do What?!?

Healing Naaman and Me – Part 6

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. – 2 Kings 5:11-12

Naaman had different expectations as to how his healing would take place. And unmet expectations can lead to disappointment and anger. Naaman displayed both.

When we start to realize the extent of the work we need to do on our journey toward healing and recovery, we can get very angry. In the beginning we naively think it will be a simple process.

Naaman thought the prophet would come see him in person, stand there and call on God, wave his hand over the spot and cure him. Just like that! Seemed simple enough.

Now Naaman is receiving instructions from the prophet’s servant! Not what Naaman is used to in his position. And the instructions are placing all the work for healing on Naaman. He thought the prophet was going to heal him! And this work he’s being required to do in order to be healed is going to take him even further out of his comfort zone.

Why couldn’t the prophet just do it the simple way?

This healing was turning into a process. A process where Naaman is doing all the work. And he’s having to go further out of his comfort zone. And it’s taking a lot longer than he believed necessary.

Naaman wasn’t sure it was worth it!

And neither was I.

I remember the first time I heard the word co-dependency. It came from the lips of a therapist. I was in her office because my life was falling apart. I was in my mid 40’s and as hard as I tried, I could not get the people in my life to behave. They were continually making decisions that made my life miserable.

If they would just do what’s right, I would be fine. At least that’s what I thought. And that’s what I told the therapist.

She asked me a few questions about how I felt about certain things in my life. I had a hard time answering them . . . because I wasn’t sure how I felt about anything. I was pretty sure I knew how my friends and loved ones felt about things. I could definitely tell her that. But I had a hard time defining my own feelings.

She told me I was co-dependent and recommended a Co-Dependants Anonymous (CoDA) 12-step group close to my home.

Well, that wasn’t exactly how I thought she would handle the situation! I really expected her to bring my loved ones into the room, tell them how they needed to change their behavior, and then everything would be fine.

Now she was telling me that I had to do the work, and I had to go way out of my comfort zone to do it, and it was starting to look like this process was going to take longer than I had expected.

And just like Naaman, I got angry.

I wasn’t the one making all these poor decisions that were complicating my life. Right? I was the sane one, wasn’t I? How would me working on my ‘stuff’ have any effect on the decisions my loved ones were making? They were the ones with the problems, not me!

I wasn’t sure I believed what the therapist said. And I definitely didn’t want to go to a 12-step meeting. Those were for people with real problems . . . like addictions. Shouldn’t I just stay home and spend more time telling my loved ones how they needed to change? Maybe if I just tried a little harder things would get better.

Naaman wasn’t sure he believed what the prophet’s servant had told him. And he definitely wasn’t sure he wanted to go wash himself in a river in Israel. Maybe he should just go back to his own country and wash himself in one of its rivers, like he had been doing. Maybe he just hadn’t done it enough. Maybe seven times was the key.

At this point Naaman and I are both tempted to go back into our cycles of insanity. Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

And Naaman and I both get angry. Anger is one of the major emotions we have to deal with on our journey toward healing. We all usually have a preconceived idea of how it should work and it rarely, if ever, happens that way. So we end up with unmet expectations which can translate into disappointment and anger.

And when we get disappointed and angry we start to question everything instead of just taking the next step. We start to blame other people’s actions and lack of action for our anger. And we think that maybe we just need to keep trying . . . just a little harder.

Unfortunately a lot of people spend their entire lives right here. They keep trying harder and harder, tweaking things just a little, and expecting that one day things are going to be different. They don’t have the courage it takes to take the first step on their journey . . . to do something different.

I’m not sure where my courage came from. Maybe things got so bad that trying anything different had to be better than what I was experiencing. Maybe it was the encouragement of the therapist . . . or the encouragement of my daughter. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m sure glad it happened.

There’s something else in this passage that I want to mention.

I used to wonder why Elisha sent his servant out to give Naaman directions for his healing. I mean, he could have come out himself and told him. But I think I understand now.

I think Elisha did it for two reasons. I think one reason was to humble Naaman. As we learned in the first couple of verses, Naaman was a very prominent person in his country. One who was used to the best. He had a personal relationship with his king. He was famous. And he was used to dealing with other prominent people.

The fact that Elisha didn’t come out to personally deliver the message probably injured Naaman’s ego. But I also think that it possibly helped jumpstart his journey.

I’ve heard all my life that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. In other words, everyone who comes to Jesus for forgiveness of their sins has to humble themselves at His feet. We’re all equal there. No matter who we are.

The same is true in the healing and recovery process. The billionaire CEO addicted to porn is no better . . . and no better off . . . than the Skid Row meth addict . . . or the Christian lady with a shopping addiction!

Everyone who takes the journey toward healing and recovery starts at the very bottom. We have to realize who we are and what we’ve done and that we’re at the very beginning point. No one gets a head start. No matter who they are.

And I believe Elisha knew Naaman needed to learn that.

The other reason I believe he sent his servant to Naaman was so no one would give Elisha credit for the healing. Elisha wanted to be sure God received all the credit.

I think when we are someone’s Elisha we need to be sure we don’t take any credit for their healing. We can give someone direction. We can share with them about our journey and give them good counsel. But we can’t heal them. And we need to be sure we don’t give them the impression that it has anything to do with us.

I’m so thankful for my Elisha’s and their counsel along the way. And I’m very thankful I got over my disappointment and anger long enough to start my journey.

But most of all I’m thankful to God for the healing He has provided as I’ve cooperated with Him along the way. And for this example of Naaman that He shares with us here.

Let’s see what Naaman’s going to do . . .

© Rhonda Fleming, 2013

Lights . . . Camera . . . DRAMA!

Healing Naaman and Me – Part 5

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” – 2 Kings 5:8-10

Do you remember the Peanuts character Pig-Pen? He was the little guy who had a perpetual dust cloud around him. In more than one episode Pig-Pen bathed and put on clean clothes and the moment he stepped outside he instantly became dirty. He then remarked to Charlie Brown, “You know what I am? I’m a dust magnet!”

I think that possibly describes us . . . especially before we start our journey to healing and recovery. Except we’re not dust magnets . . . we’re drama magnets! No matter how much we say we want out of the drama, no matter how far away from certain drama kings and queens we try to stay, the drama seems to follow us around.

And when we’re enveloped in this cloud of drama all the time, we can’t see things clearly.

I remember when I first started my journey toward healing and recovery, I was amazed at how clearly some people were able to discern the issues behind all the drama in my life. While all I saw was seemingly never-ending confusion and chaos, they saw simply black and white issues that could be addressed.

I wanted that! And gradually and eventually I got more and more of it.

The king of Israel appears to me to be another kind of king . . . a Drama King! I have to believe that he knew about Elisha. I believe he knew Elisha was God’s prophet. I bet the king knew about some of the miracles God had performed through Elisha. I have a feeling he knew where Elisha lived, or at least knew someone who could point Naaman in the right direction.

But instead of calmly addressing the real issue . . . that Naaman had come to the wrong person for healing, the king of Israel throws a drama party.

Thankfully he had someone who could see through his cloud of drama.

Elisha hears about it and sends a message to the king. The message has three points. Here’s my paraphrase:

  1. Quit being the Drama King.
  2. Send him to me.
  3. Offer him some hope.

Elisha was not fooled by the cloud of drama in the throne room. He calmed the Drama King down. He gave clear direction for Naaman’s next step. He kept Naaman’s hope alive . . . hope that the king had just dashed to pieces.

Al of us need an Elisha in our lives – people who can see through our drama. People who know our next steps to take in the recovery process. And people who know how to keep our hope alive when things look bleak.

Naaman decides to give it a try. So he and his entire group ride up to Elisha’s front door. I don’t know for sure, but I bet Naaman’s entourage was bigger than the house Elisha lived in!

I realize Naaman probably didn’t want to travel alone. And maybe he had to take part of the cavalry with him on his trip. But did the entire clan have to go to Elisha’s house?

The healing and recovery process is only available to individuals. There’s no group rate. Now you may very well be part of a group, 12-steps or otherwise, but the work is done on an individual basis.

And like Naaman had to go to the prophet’s house, we will definitely have to go out of our comfort zone during our healing process. And isn’t that a good thing? I mean for crying out loud . . . our comfort zone is smack dab in the middle of dysfunction and chaos! It’s filled with drama and hopelessness! Who would want to stay there?!?

I would. You would. We all would. Because we know what to expect there. Right? Even when what we expect is not pleasant, at least we’re used to it.

It takes a lot of courage to leave our comfort zone. Even if that comfort zone is dangerous. Every day women stay in physically abusive relationships that end up killing them.

Others of us stay in relationships that are abusive in other ways and put up with it for a long time. Some stay their entire lives. We don’t have enough courage to try anything different. We know what to expect. Even if what we expect is not good. Or right. Or even safe.

And when we’re offered hope of a better life through healing and recovery, we want to drag all that baggage with us and fix everyone involved at the same time. We continue to ‘carry’ all our relationships and history with us. We don’t understand that the only person we can change is ourselves.

I was once told by a therapist that the best thing I could do for my loved ones who were involved in this dysfunction with me was to heal and recover myself. That way I could be an example for them.

She knew what I didn’t . . . that when I changed, all of my relationships would also change.

The directions Elisha gave Naaman were not what Naaman expected, as we will see in the next chapter. I don’t think the healing and recovery process is ever what we expect it to be. We want instant fixes. We want easy to follow directions. And we want to stay in our comfort zone with the companions we have now. We want to continue with our life the way it is. (Say, didn’t we recently talk about insanity?)

My healing and recovery process took me further out of my comfort zone than I ever imagined. It cost me things I did not want to lose. And I had to do things that did not make sense to me.

But I continued . . . not because it was easy or comfortable or logical. I continued because people kept holding out hope to me. Hope for healing. For sanity. For a functional life.

I continued mainly because I met people who had lived much worse lives than I, had been in much deeper pits, and were now sane. Healed. Hopeful. Functional. Were their lives perfect? Definitely not. Were all their loved ones healed and recovered? Unfortunately not all of them. But these people seemed genuinely happy.

They had let go of things they couldn’t control or change and were clinging to what they could . . . their own journey. They were focused on enjoying where they were on their path and in continually pursuing the next step.

My goal in healing and recovery became MY healing and recovery. Yes, I wanted those around me to make the journey too, but I learned that was not in my control. So I made the decision to pursue my path.

I’m so glad I did.

There’s one more thing that Elisha says that I believe offered Naaman . . . and me . . . hope for the journey.

Elisha said that the results of Naaman washing himself seven times in the Jordan would be restoration and cleansing.

The first thing that hits me here is that Elisha said Naaman should ‘wash himself’. I wonder if this had to do with the fact that Naaman came with his entire entourage, which probably included a servant or two.

I don’t know if Naaman was accustomed to being bathed by his servants, but I think Elisha wanted to be clear here that this was something Naaman had to do for himself. No one else could do it for him. Just like our own healing and recovery process.

I think the rest of that sentence represents two things. The restored flesh is a physical sign of the inward cleansing. I believe that continuing the healing process, following through and not giving up will result in a major change on the inside.

But I believe that the inward change will also be displayed on the outside. Others will recognize that something monumental has happened to us. The transformation we go through will become more and more obvious  . . . especially to the people who know us best.

And that is why some of them will decide to pursue their own journey of healing and recovery. Because our transformation offers them hope.

Our experiences will enable us to one day be someone else’s Elisha.

© Rhonda Fleming, 2013

Poster Child

Healing Naaman and Me – Part 4

I love this popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I was the poster child for that definition for most of my life. I stayed in my comfort zone and kept trying the same things the same way time after time after time. And for some reason, I was surprised when I kept getting the same results.

In our story, Naaman has decided to stay in his comfort zone and follow his boss’s suggestion. Instead of going to a lowly prophet in Samaria for healing, he took a large payment and went straight to the top. The king of Israel.

I believe my healing is a job for God and me. And your healing is a job for God and you. And Naaman’s healing was a job for God and Naaman.

When we’re hurting we need to ask God for direction and then go where He leads us. Sometimes it may be to a therapist. Sometimes to a 12-step group. Possibly to a chiropractor or naturopath. Or it may involve a physician or a surgeon or medication.

Healing . . . whether it’s mental or physical or emotional . . . is God’s work. But we have to cooperate. We have to take responsibility for our part – which is following God’s directions.

I also believe in miraculous, out of the blue, instantaneous healing straight from Heaven! But I believe those incidences are fewer and farther between than the mercy-filled, day after day, difficult, God-dependent healing He wants to do in us.

God had given Naaman clear direction through the servant girl. And now, based on a new direction suggested by his master, Naaman is shifting the responsibility for his healing from God (through God’s prophet) to the king of Israel.

And the king of Israel is annoyed!

II Kings 5:7 – As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

For decades I lived my life mired in dysfunction. Co-dependency to be exact. I didn’t know how to distinguish between my responsibilities and the responsibilities of the people around me.

I frequently took over their responsibilities without being asked. That usually didn’t upset them too much. But I also turned some of my most basic responsibilities over to them!

And that didn’t always go over very well!

It’s so easy to see now, but at the time I was so dysfunctional that I actually thought that was how life worked. Even though it wasn’t working very well for me! But I kept trying. Can we all say INSANITY?

I think Naaman made the same mistake. He turned over the responsibility for the decision about his healing to his boss and then to the king of Israel. His boss did things the way he always did. And the king of Israel got angry because he was expected to do something he wasn’t capable of doing!

Shifting the responsibility for life decisions, including our healing, may make us feel relieved in the short-term. It’s in someone else’s hands. It’s not up to us. But the relief is only temporary and the healing process is prolonged and misunderstandings are created.

Expecting someone else to take responsibility for fixing us is asking for trouble. No one else can fix you. A therapist can’t, although they can help you start to recognize your issues and what you need to do to change. A 12-step group can’t, although they can be a great source of direction and encouragement. Your spouse can’t fix you. Neither can your boss, or your children, or your parents, or your friends.

As I said earlier, I believe your healing is a job for God and you. You cooperate with the process He leads you to and through. You do the required work. He does the healing.

And the flip side of that coin is that you can’t fix anyone else! No matter what your position is or how much education or experience you have. No matter how much you love a person and can see what they need to do.

You. Can’t. Fix. Them.

And when someone else expects you to fix them, it’s very frustrating. Just ask the king of Israel! You are no longer just responsible for your own life . . . they’re holding you responsible for theirs, too.

Someone is expecting you to do something you don’t have the power to do.

I think that’s how the king of Israel felt when he read the letter from the king of Aram.

And to top it off, Namaan brought with him a generous payment for the healing he was asking the king of Israel to perform. How exasperating!

Healing is not a transaction. Our status and ability to pay don’t secure our healing. The tools God uses to heal us may cost us monetarily. But His healing isn’t for sale.

Healing is a process. It’s usually a process in uncharted territory outside of our comfort zone and almost always takes longer than we think it should.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

For now, we have to take responsibility for our own healing. And since God is the one that heals, we need to rely on Him to lead us to and through the process He chooses for us and cooperate with Him every step of the way.

Trying to pass our responsibility on to anyone else is useless.

Unless you want to take my place as the poster child for that definition of insanity.

© Rhonda Fleming, 2013