I’m pretty good about the little things. If I start to slip or trip but then right myself, I’ll say or think, “Thank you, Lord.” But I recently had an opportunity to be thankful about a big thing, and blew it utterly.
The situation was this: Because I had a double bypass five years ago and my blood pressure is on the borderline for medication, a doctor prescribed for me a beta blocker that could bring with it nasty side effects like insomnia and anxiety. Never having had pill problems, I ignored those warnings.
Then a routine medical lab test indicated, maybe, one of the worst kinds of cancer. The score was so bad it looked like a lab mistake, and retesting would come the next day, but instead of calmness I had clamminess, and instead of saying to God, “Your will be done,” I railed at the prospect that my will would be thwarted.
Did the anxiety come naturally or was it medicinally induced? Whatever the cause, my thoughts and words flung heavenward were disrespectful: I have so much to do. ... I love my wife so much. ... I need to tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there store all my goods (Luke 12:18).
Happily, the next day’s lab retest gave me a healthy score—but the error illuminated my own pride. God showed me that I may indeed have a Christian worldview when it comes to the issues we typically deal with in WORLD, and may indeed have a sense of His sovereignty throughout the day—but when it comes to the most important questions, I was not above an unhappy “Ides of March” failure.
Feb. 14 is famous as Valentine’s Day, of course, but a month later comes the day when fear outweighs romantic hope. The ancient Romans saw March 15—the Ides of March—as a day bringing chaos. It was the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., with conspirators stabbing him 23 times in the Roman Senate. I could put Psalm 23 up against 23 stabs, but that lab error and beta blocker forced me to admit that thankfulness for green pastures yielded to unsteadiness when I peered into the valley of the shadow of death.
I’m nervous about admitting all this, but (1) it’s sadly true, (2) it’s proof that I don’t belong on any pedestal, and (3) my position may not be all that unusual among Christians. As J.I. Packer writes in Knowing Christianity: “Normal people do not look forward to dying, and there is good reason for that. We cannot expect the process to be pleasant; the prospect of going to give an account of oneself to God is awesome; and Christians know that physical death is the outward sign of that eternal separation from God which is the Creator’s judgment on sin.”
Want some empirical evidence? Researchers several years ago asked 345 advanced cancer patients at seven hospital and cancer centers around the United States whether they wanted life-prolonging measures such as ventilators and resuscitation during their last days. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009, the religious (mostly Christian) patients were almost three times as likely as the non-religious to seek and receive life-prolonging care.
Of course, that result may have been a measure of faith rather than fear—do not assume the end is near—but I suspect some patients were learning the difference between an intellectual acceptance of eventual death and an emotional response to imminence. Yes, we should sing hymns with lines like, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!”—but also ask ourselves the hard question: At crunch time, do I stake my life on that love?
I’ve now halved the beta blocker dosage, and anxiety is gone—but this whole experience leaves me suspicious of myself and determined to grow my faith rather than assume I already have what I need. Growing it means spending more time with the Bible and in prayer. Growing it means asking God to show me more and more that my only comfort in life and death is not fatalistic stoicism but the assurance of eternal life that only Christ provides.