When You Have to Wash Seven Times
I was a city girl dropped suddenly into the jungle. It was 2013, the hardest year of my life. Our family of four had packed up and moved to Papua New Guinea and the transition hadn’t gone smoothly.
In addition to the two little people who depended on me for everything, culture shock had hit me hard. We lived in a house with a dirt floor for five weeks. I washed clothes and bathed in the river and cooked our meals over a fire.
I found myself in a culture that celebrated men and extroverts, of which I am neither. And my husband excelled in language and culture learning, while I was much slower.
The whole year was spent largely focusing on my children, their health, and their adjustment. They faced countless ailments as their bodies tried to ward off new and unfamiliar sicknesses.
Nine months in, we found ourselves in the hospital with our then two year old who had to have surgery in a place where the nurses didn’t wear rubber gloves and the floors were coated in the dust; this undid me.
When 2014 came though, it appeared as though we’d had some breakthrough and my kids seemed to have fully transitioned to life in Papua New Guinea. We were finally hopeful.
But, while my kids were doing well, I came to see that I was not. My energy had largely been focused on caring for my children, and I realized rather quickly that I had failed to take care of myself. Shortly after the new year, I had what I would later learn was a panic attack.
I had been in the middle of a conversation when my breathing suddenly quickened and I struggled to catch my breath. I lay down with silent tears streaming down my cheeks, waiting for my breathing to normalize and the chest pain to subside.
My eyes found my husband while he stroked my head and told me — and my two small children watching — that I was okay, that Mommy was going to be okay.
My body had had enough stress. I was like a bucket of water, full to the brim, and finally a small drop had caused the water to spill over. And it scared me.
I had never struggled with anxiety like this before. It made me feel more vulnerable than ever.
I wondered whether I’d continue to have panic attacks for the rest of my life? Would I need medication? What did these episodes say about me, my mental health, and my spiritual maturity?
Was I the girl that just couldn’t hack missionary life? Would I be one of those missionaries that left the States a spiritual giant, but came back a complete wreck?
Regardless of all these unanswered questions, I knew my body was trying to tell me that it couldn’t be strong anymore; it needed help, it needed to be cared for. And my heart and my soul needed rest too.
But I felt like a failure. I felt like Papua New Guinea had taken so much from me: my children’s safety, my comfort, my identity, and in return had given only malaria and heartache.
And I was in the company of other missionaries who had gone through harder things than I had, and some of them let me know it. I felt so indescribably weak and insufficient. I believed I was a failure and that everybody knew it.
I remember one day reading a dear friend’s text message: “You are being healed.”
“I don’t feel healed,” I responded.
There were days when I felt light and whole and days that were dark with the reality of my humanity, the knowledge that I was damaged and fragmented and that only God could repair the broken places.
She and I dialogued a bit about healing, and she reminded me of this story from II Kings 5:8-14:
“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
My western mind is trained to want things fast and easy. How like Naaman I am; how I wish God would wave His hand and boom, Alakazam! — I’m fixed.
But the reality is that, more often than not, healing is slow, measured. It takes effort; you have to make a choice to get into the waters.
And sometimes you have to wash in the waters more than once.
There will be always be another area that needs healing. Always.
Because we are human and frail and because this isn’t our final destination, the road will always meet us with obstacles. People will disappoint us and hurt us. Circumstances will fail to meet our expectations. Our bodies will give out.
I was faced with a decision: go to the waters or stay where I was.
I remember closing my eyes and asking Jesus where He was. The picture immediately came to my mind: He was in the water. Not outside it, not waiting on the edge. No, He was in the water, beckoning me to come and join Him, a smile spread wide across His face.
And then came my revelation: Jesus wasn’t afraid of getting my dirt on Him.
When He heals, He is close and He doesn’t care if the water gets murky. He is the God-Man who wasn’t afraid of spit and a little dirt. He didn’t mind the bleeding woman grabbing his garment. His hands freely and willingly touched lepers. And when the harlot washed his feet He’d said it was beautiful.
He’ll touch you and me too. Because our issues and ailments are no match for His compassion and mercy. For it is His delight to heal, His utter joy to make things right.
So I went to the waters and said yes to the healing, with Jesus by my side. And I continue to go there with Him; I continue to give Him access to the broken places in me.
He’ll stay there with me until it’s finished, until all of me is restored.
Come everyone, come to the waters… Wash and be healed.
Erin Duplechin is a missionary wife and mama of two living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at erinduplechin.com