I've had this experience before - maybe I'll do better this time.
Say you had the following experience, or one like it:
When you are little, growing up on a farm, your foot gets caught in farm machinery, and from that day forward it is clubbed, your toes curled entirely under you foot. You have to walk around with a huge orthopedic shoe.
By the time you are in your 20s, you are told that you will need surgery to have some nuts and bolts and plates put into your foot. This scares you. You go home and pray "Jesus, help me", and then are struck to the floor. It feels like your entire body is receiving an electric current. When it is finally over, you stand up, pacing around the room, trying to make sense of what has happened, upset and confused.
Then you realize you are pacing...on a brand new, healthy, foot.
Five days later you return to your orthopedic surgeon and show him the foot, say "thanks doc, but Jesus healed me, and I'm outta here", and then walk out the door.
For the purposes of this story, it doesn't matter whether it literally happened or not. You experienced it, and remember it, and it is central. It also isn't the only story of miraculous healing you have in your life, just an example.
Now, imagine that you are in the hospital, have been told that you have two cancers, one of which is terminal and inoperable. Imagine the pain this will cause when you do not experience any healing, but firmly believe that you could, if only...if only...something. After all, you have been healed in the past. The Bible says you will be healed in a multitude of places.
This is a patient I just talked to.
All joking about tent-revival hucksters aside, as far as I know, this patient is telling the truth, and I don't have time or resources to go back and verify her stories. So now I'm stuck, a person who has never experienced a dramatic miraculous healing myself, and whose love of biological sciences predisposes him to be skeptical of such stories, trying to provide pastoral care to a patient who can't figure out why she hasn't been healed yet and is, understandably, incredibly upset.
What I'm proud of is that I did just that. She was very thankful, and I could tell that I was very helpful to her. But its hard for me to just chalk these things up to mystery, and I can see how if this woman is not healed, her theology will turn against itself.
I can also see why my Unitarian Universalist colleague found talking to her so challenging.
So, seriously, any advice from you pastors who read this blog? Have you encountered something like this before? What did you do? I'm going to see her tomorrow morning, briefly on the way home, and will consult with my colleagues about further visitation, but man, this one's a knot and no mistake.