He had tried everything. Literally.
After all, it was his son.
The episodes of seizure and psychosis had gotten progressively worse. The boy had suffered innumerable indignities and caused incalculable anxiety for everyone he loved.
The degree of pain and depth of suffering had taken its toll on the once-expectant heart of this committed dad. His hopeful attitude now jaded by too many trips down too many rabbit trails.
Nothing he tried had worked. Nothing.
That’s when he heard about a man who was breaking barriers and changing outcomes by healing broken people. Rumors of the miraculous breathed a little life on the dying embers of his fragile faith.
Since there was nothing left to try, he figured he had nothing left to lose.
So with deep suspicion and high skepticism he reluctantly went to see this Jesus from Nazareth.
And wouldn’t you know it. The Galilean’s associates informed him that their leader was at a summit meeting on the top of a mountain with his key advisors.
But not to worry, they would handle it.
After all, they had witnessed many miracles, watched this Jesus do his thing and had all the formulas committed to memory. This one was in the bag.
So the discouraged dad took a deep breath of hope and put his trust and his son in the hands of Jesus’ apprentices.
It was a tragic comedy of errors. It actually would have been humorous if the stakes weren’t so high.
We don’t know from the story what all they tried. But it isn’t hard to imagine them tossing out phrases, performing rituals and reciting prayers they had seen Jesus use in the miracles of their memories.
Problem was they had missed the point. Now they were missing the power.
So they reverted to the only thing they knew to do when what they were doing wasn’t working. They argued. A boy was caught in a vortex of suffering and they were fussing about who didn’t wave the wand quite right during the last prayer.
Sidebar: this sounds incredibly familiar.
Jesus didn’t have formulaic ways of doing anything–especially miracles. There was no magic involved, no hocus pocus or smoke and mirrors.
Just His touch, His word, His compassion and His power. All of which His disciples were missing when it was needed most.
The disappointment for the boy’s dad was palpable.
His desperation had led to this one final risk–trust in the improbable. His last-ditch attempt to torque up some faith had been met with the incompetent performance of the Disciples and the intractable nature of the illness.
That was it. He was done. Giving up once and for all. Enough is enough.
That’s when More Than Enough showed up.
The disturbance at the periphery of his vision shook him from his excursion to hopelessness. He looked up to see someone arriving that was capturing everyone’s attention.
It was Jesus interrupting His disciples’ infantile debate to inquire about this inexcusable debacle.
There was something about this Jesus that awakened something in this dad.
He ran to him and frantically stated his case.
After a quick word of rebuke to His inept helpers, Jesus says the words that echo in time to each person facing the impossible:
“Bring the boy to me.”
It was the only solution. The boy was convulsing violently and foaming at the mouth. It was as if the pain at its root was mocking the power at its source.
Get the need near the Master.
Jesus tenderly explored the scope of the pain with the compassion that characterized all of his interactions with hurting people. “How long has he been like this?”
The father’s answer must have broken the Healer’s heart. “As long as I can remember my son has been on the edge.”
Then all the years of failed attempts and dashed hopes came rushing out in one doubt-filled sigh of exhaustion:
“…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
That’s when Jesus confronted the cynical despair that was possessing this dad’s heart as much as the tormenting spirit was possessing the son’s body: “‘If you can’?” Jesus wanted the man to face his own doubt before he faced the unbelievable answer.“Everything is possible for one who believes.”
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “’I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
Here is the point of this tale of pain, doubt, failure and confusion.
When broken dreams and broken hearts drag on so long that they sap you of hope and drain you of faith, there is a prayer that is music to the ears of the Father in heaven: “Help my unbelief!”
Jesus responds to honest doubt as much as to great faith. He answers the one who responds to life with the skepticism of disappointment as compassionately as he does to the one who defiantly faces the odds with unbreakable hope.
Because what Jesus wants most is to get near the pain that shapes our lives and change the expected outcome. Whether we bring the need to Jesus in buoyant faith or desperate doubt, a few moments in His real presence can change everything.
When everyone around thought the boy was all but finished, Jesus knew He was just getting started.
So to all the desperately disappointed skeptics who have waited too long, seen too much and hurt too badly, I offer a prayer that Jesus longs to hear…one that can change your life forever:
“Help my unbelief!”
*Thoughts on Mark 9:14-29