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Last week, I wrote about Jairus and his daughter. As part of that scripture block, we read about the woman with the issue of blood. Even though it was one of the stories included last week, it’s actually also included for this week.
So Jesus is making His way towards a location to heal a sick girl when a lady comes up behind Him. She touches His garment with the faith that it will heal her, and it does. He stops to minister to her. There are a couple of details in this story that teach important principles.
She came trembling
One of the details that stuck out to me as I read this story occurs in verse 47. Christ perceived that virtue went out of Him, and He asked around to see who had sought healing. This was her response.
Luke 8:47 And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
She was trembling. Now everything I teach for this particular section is based on conclusions I have personally drawn from the fact that she was trembling. I can’t say for certain whether those conclusions are accurate. However, I can say that the principles are true.
In order to understand the significance of her trembling, it helps to understand Jewish culture and basic trauma psychology.
In Jewish culture, someone with an issue of blood was unclean. If you were a person who was unclean, you were not allowed to participate in the temple and anyone who touched you likewise became unclean. For some instances of uncleanness, you could participate in ritual cleansings that would give you the ability to participate in society again. Unfortunately, she couldn’t ritualistically cleanse her issue of blood away and she was stuck on the fringes of society because of it.
What does this really mean for a person? Honestly, it means trauma. There is a trauma associated with homelessness in general and considering that she had spent all of her money on doctors, this woman likely found herself without a home. Because she was unclean, she likely couldn’t find shelter with anyone else.
On top of the trauma from being homeless, she likely experienced touch starvation or touch deprivation. This is a literal condition that can cause immense amounts of stress. If you think it’s a little silly, look at the research. Babies who are not touched can suffer from failure to thrive and literally die. Old people who are placed outside the family home into nursing homes die much more rapidly. The amount of relief that can be brought about by simply having a dog as a companion is evidence in and of itself for the importance of physical connection.
This woman was unclean and untouchable for twelve years. If she was not deprived of a husband or children originally, she was likely parted from them when she got sick.
When trauma occurs in the human brain, it can cause a person to react in a very specific manner. For example, a man suffering from PTSD from wartime jumps under a car when he hears a motorcycle misfire. The auditory input from the motorcycle completely bypasses his decision-making, and he finds himself hiding. His body learned to skip his decision-making process because it was trying to keep him alive.
This woman began to tremble when she was addressed. Despite the fact that she had been cleansed, she was terrified about how she would be received. Would Jesus be angry that she had come close to Him? Was that why she had touched His garment instead of asking to be healed by Him directly? Maybe she was too scared He would be horrified at the thought of touching her. Would the crowd be angry that she was mingling with everyone? The fear of being rejected again likely caused a huge stress response in her brain, hence the trembling and falling at His feet.
As stated previously, these are conclusions drawn off of very few details. However, I find it very likely that this woman had suffered through a lot of legitimate trauma.
It now makes much more sense why Jesus needed to stop even though He was on His way to an urgent matter. This woman needed healing beyond her blood issue, and she needed to be accepted back into society. Maybe the symptoms of the blood issue were not particularly apparent; maybe the crowd needed to hear that this woman was clean before they would believe it. Maybe she needed that reassurance herself.
Trauma is a quiet disease; the symptoms may be loud but the underlying causes are invisible to outsiders. Just as “physical” illness makes bodies perform abnormally, mental illness can cause the mind to perform abnormally. We know that this woman had gone through difficult things and so we likely didn’t pay particular attention to the fact that she trembled. It doesn’t seem out of the ordinary that she was scared. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by people who have also experienced difficult things that we know nothing about. Perhaps if we could read their story like we read her’s, we could see precisely why they made specific decisions that don’t strike us as normal or wise. I guess my advice here is to pause, be kind, and have compassion even if you don’t know why they need your compassion.
Virtue is gone out of me
Jesus was surrounded by a mob of people when He was touched by this woman who so desperately needed His attention. Somehow, He perceived that something had gone out of Him. Many of us would have likely missed the entire interaction. In the institute manual for the New Testament, we receive another story that teaches us more about this concept of “virtue going out.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) recorded an experience that helps us understand the “virtue,” or spiritual strength, that is required of a priesthood holder when administering to others: “Elder Jedediah M. Grant enquired of me the cause of my turning pale and losing strength last night while blessing children. I told him that I saw that Lucifer would exert his influence to destroy the children that I was blessing, and I strove with all the faith and spirit that I had to seal upon them a blessing that would secure their lives upon the earth; and so much virtue went out of me into the children, that I became weak, from which I have not yet recovered; and I referred to the case of the woman touching the hem of the garment of Jesus. (Luke, 8th chapter). The virtue here referred to is the spirit of life; and a man who exercises great faith in administering to the sick, blessing little children, or confirming, is liable to become weakened” (in History of the Church, 5:303).
I think it’s important to highlight the idea that it took something out of both Jesus and Joseph when they ministered to others. Obviously, Christ has far more power than Joseph and so this added story from Joseph helped me understand that this was not just an Omnipotent experience. I suppose I just always assumed that this was a very “Christ” thing to do: to perceive when some kind of spiritual energy was transferred. However, as I read that it happened to a servant of Christ, I realize that it’s something a little different.
It reminds me of when Joseph fainted after his first experiences with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the angel Moroni. It reminds me of when Joseph and Sidney Rigdon had a vision and Sidney was left completely pale and exhausted while Joseph was fine. Joseph replied that Sidney just wasn’t as used to receiving visions as he was.
Have you ever felt physically exhausted after ministering to someone? Have you ever felt like sleeping forever after a big church conference? You know that feeling at General Conference when you have reached your pique revelation-intake level and you are satiated to bursting and there’s still two more sessions? Have you ever felt weary after days and days and days of praying and loving and caring for your little circle of people? If you chose to serve a mission, did you ever wonder why you were so dang exhausted all the time even though you were getting more sleep than you ever did during your freshman year of college?
I suppose there are a couple of reasons that I think it’s important to understand the concept that it expends spiritual strength out of us to minister and love and experience spiritual things (Honestly, right now I’m picturing that part in Star Wars where Ben gives Rey his life force which is awesome but besides the point). This made me realize two other things.
First, it’s important to nourish. In our mortal lives, it is really easy to see that if you don’t properly nourish your body, you’re never going to be able to do all the amazing things your body is capable of doing. It’s the same spiritually. There comes a point where you are no longer praying about whether something is true; you’re praying and studying because you’re nourishing your spirit so that you can perform incredible miracles in the name of the Savior. Bring in spiritual nourishment so that you can give more out in your day.
Second, it’s important to build up spiritual stamina. There will come a day when we are meant to stand before the Savior. Though it is not talked of often, I believe that day can happen sooner than we think. I believe that in order to be prepared for that experience, we have to build up a spiritual stamina in order to fully absorb that experience.
This is a literal concept.
The Savior wishes to give us more, but He can only give what we are prepared to receive. He wants us to study, practice revelation, and pray so that we become spiritually stronger and capable of receiving more. It’s not just about having a solid knowledge foundation; it’s about our capacity to receive spiritual things.
I’m grateful for Him, and His willingness to lead me along as I go. I’m grateful that He has more in store for me than I could ever imagine.