What Shall I Fear?
I was so tired last night...it was a long week, with multiple days at the hospital, including an overnight stay for my daughter's lung biopsy. More on that later.
The blessing of a 3-day Labor Day weekend includes the possibility of sleeping in, which for my extreme morning person self means luxuriously laying in bed until 7AM. I woke up with the final verse from Psalm 27 in my head, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord."
My subconscious sleeping brain knows it's in a state of waiting, as we await the results from the biopsy to see if the cancer has metastasized to her lungs--which this rare sarcoma has a tendency to do.
The thing is, none of the members of my family are in a state of fear right now, and that is the greatest blessing of all. We grappled with the shock of the original diagnosis last year, successful surgeries, and my disappointments with the vestiges of prosperity gospel-laced attitudes in myself and others when we seemed so surprised by suffering that we voiced prayers asking for the quick fix.
We're not praying for the quick fix anymore. My daughter is leading the way in praying for, and patiently resting in, God's plan for her ultimate healing. I pray that there is no cancer in her lungs, and that the doctors look at the biopsied tissue and say, "This looks perfectly normal." But if they do look suspicious, I pray, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods...."
The image of fire as a metaphor for ordeal has been with us for an entire year. Friends and family are again wearing the wristband that a church friend made, with Isaiah 43:2 on it:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
And that is our prayer. I also pray for long life for my daughter, and I pray that she will be free from extreme suffering. I pray that God will be with us in all things, as He has promised.
I recently re-promised to the Lord that I am "all in." I am ready for us all to be used for His glory, and we are committed to whatever it takes to be agents of the Kingdom of Heaven. I'm committed to influencing the spheres that I live and work in to look more like heavenly interactions than the misery we see in much of the world these days. This is more important than our individual comfort.
For me, some of what holds me back is some latent anger and frustration. Not at God, but frustration that others aren't further along in their sanctified path and therefore aren't super helpful for us right now. Again, my training as a grief researcher comes to my aid, since I'm familiar with how common it is when a loved one is dying or has recently died to feel, "Everyone else around me is acting like nothing has changed." I think this is hardest during grief due to death, but it is not entirely unfamiliar to me right now. I don't need everyone around me to be thinking of us 24/7 or to expect them to have their hearts pricked over my daughter in the same way that a mother's heart is (although I have had lovely, lovely people say the kindest things about mothers' hearts, and comment on how hard this must be for me, in a way that I found to be very supportive--thank you, all!).
I guess what surprises me is how very small peoples' fears and concerns are.
This must be how God sees us all the time--that He loves us and recognizes that for us, these small concerns are big, and He is concerned about small things like sparrows, and there's nothing wrong about being concerned about the small things.
But, as my daughter recently noticed--people are so very afraid of so many things that they can't control and they live their lives as if to try to exert hyper-control to protect against their fears. And this is why, in the same passage that God tells us that He, too, is concerned about the small things, we are to "be anxious for nothing."
One can't worry nearly enough to protect against all the possible things that might befall you. It's impossible. And yet, we so often try. As Jesus so poignantly said, in the passage referenced above, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" (Luke 12:25). It's not the easiest thing in the world to be walking symbols about how little we are in control of our lives, but maybe it's an important reminder for all of us.
Speaking of that, another passage that's been in my head lately is Isaiah 8, where Isaiah and a prophetess have children that are then named in such a way to serve as a sign for what was about to happen to Samaria. It is in this passage that God, through Isaiah, tells the people to "not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy"(ahem!) and that instead of being afraid of all the things they're afraid of, you know what's the one thing that should be feared? God! "He is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread." As in, a holy fear and a holy dread, recognizing that only He is in control and is all-powerful enough to change things, for only He declares "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10). And Isaiah concludes, "Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion."
So, through this ordeal, we are learning that fear and anxiety cannot protect you from the very things you're afraid of, and whatever it is you're afraid of may not be the exact thing that actually ends up coming your way! Quite simply, we are not in control.
Besides the big prayer for ultimate healing, I need to pray the little prayers for grace toward others. It's taking my eyes off of Jesus as well as the loving community around me if I focus on the handful of those subsumed by their own fears rather than the throng of kindness around me. And prayers of mutuality, where those of us going through things--all kinds of different things--are lifting one another up right now. Sometimes it's easier to engage in intercessory prayer when you yourself are suffering, I find. It's like all the prayers get tied up together, and we send them up to the Lord like the prayer ribbons I've seen hanging from trees everywhere from Ireland to the Dali museum in Florida (I learned earlier this summer that Dali returned to Catholicism after reading St. John of the Cross. Hooray for the mystics!).
We join together, acknowledging our imperfections, acknowledging that all is not well but that we continue on, even with joy (unspeakable, unfathomable, truly!). And we lay one another's burdens before the Lord. I even appreciate the thoughts of warmth and light that some send--I'll take it all, like holy incense and ribbon prayers.
I'm again reminded of Psalm 27, this time the opening verse: "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?"
Who, or what, are you afraid of? I know what I fear, and I pray for the Lord's deliverance. I'm turning to the stronghold of my life rather than letting myself be subsumed by "what ifs." God grant us the grace to continue in this mindset--and may you be granted this same grace.