What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid

The thing I dread most has come upon me and, I’m afraid.

Since mid-February of this year, I’ve been dealing unsuccessfully with lower back pain. I ignored it for a little while and continued to run and lift weights. One of my joys in life is meeting friends to run 10-14 miles on Saturday morning, followed by Starbucks.  When the pain got worse, I stopped all exercising and dabbled with things I’ve never done before: Seeing a chiropractor (twice) and an accupuncturist (once).

By Memorial Day weekend, I could barely walk more than a few steps at a time. I finally went to see my doctor. He’s conservative like me, and recommended trying physical therapy first. If that didn’t work, he would send me to a physiatrist to get epidural cortisone injections. Last resort: Surgery.

Three weeks of physical therapy did nothing for me. So, on I went to the Physiatrist. He ordered an MRI which revealed two herniated discs, one not-so-bad, the other really bad. My first round of coritsone injections was pretty effective at reducing my pain (procedure #1).

But, by August, the cortisone effectivenees abruptly stopped after 4 weeks. I delayed for a few weeks, and finally decided I had to give it a second go (procedure #2). This time, the effectiveness was almost nil.

Still no running. No weight lifting. But, I was building kitchen cabinets, using a stool in my workshop whenever it was too painful to stand.

Again, I delayed getting a third cortisone injection. But, by late September, I could no longer manage things. I went to see my doctor on September 30th for his advice and to get pain medication. He referred me to a surgeon, and gave me a pain prescription, the first in this months-long ordeal.

I went home and took a pill. I felt better for a little while. But that night everything fell off the cliff. I was delirious with pain, even with Percocet in my system. Dawn had to take over.

At 1 am on October 1st, two EMTs carried me out of my house, put me in an ambulance and brought me to Northside Forsythe Hospital. The ER Staff put something strong in me via IV to calm me down, and ordered another MRI. This time, things looked worse.

They admitted me immediately. The next day they operated  (procedure #3) to remove the material that had leaked out of my L4 disc and was pressing on my nerve, causing the pain. I now have a walker to help me get around the house. And I’m on short-term disability leave from work.

A week later, I saw the surgeon to follow up. I wasn’t doing well. Just getting me to the appointment was a painful ordeal, and my surgeon looked sadly disappointed. He ordered another MRI.

Four days ago, I saw the results. At first, I thought I was looking at a pre-operation image.

It wasn’t.

My post-operation disc now looked like a flat tire squeezing out under the weight of a car. My disc was so badly damaged that there was no longer enough internal material in the disc to support my weight, so now the disc itself was pressing against my nerve.

Surgery has been scheduled to fuse my L4 and L5 vertebrae together. Honestly this is about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced even though I know many people have had this surgery done successfully.

WHY I’M AFRAID

See, I’ve always had a phobia about being cut or stabbed (ironic that I took up woodworking and carpentry as a hobby). And I’ve always had a phobia about back surgeries. I think there was a time in my life when everyone I met who had back surgery had bad results and needed further surgeries. Now, here I am, 0 for 3 with procedures that were supposed to “fix” me, and with procedure #4 glaring at me with its Jack-O-Lantern eyes.

The phobia part of average Lon is trying not to think about what’s coming soon, and whether or not I’ll be “fixed.” The phobia part of average Lon is worried I’ll never experience the joy of running even 2 or 3 easy miles with my friends. The phobia part is worried I might never be quite normal again. The phobia part is worried there will have to be procedure #5, and #6, or more.

WHERE’S YOUR FAITH, LON?

What about the part of average Lon that trusts God’s providence? What about the part of me that believes wholeheartedly that God is always working for my eternal good behind the scenes of every good and bad event in my life (Romans 8:28-30)?

Those of you who are Christians know I have to reach a point where I am able to hand my fear to God. You know I need to trust Him with my phobia, trust Him with the outcome of this surgery—whether good or bad—and rest in Christ alone.

But the honest truth is, at this moment, I’m not there yet.

Because I’m average.

The usual theme running through my head (and prayers) is, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.”

So, I don’t have any counsel for you about how to get to that place of quiet rest in Jesus when you face your worst fears. All I can tell you is that it’s a process. It takes time, even when you have a solid, biblical worldview to guide you. I can tell you it will always involve prayer and Scripture. It will always require a clear understanding of who God is, and a solid trust in His purpose for your life. The support of a prayerful Christian community (e.g. a home church) will be invaluable, too.

And yet, even with all this, it may still take time. And, for me, in God’s mercy, I have until November 13th (my procedure #4).

In that time, I would appreciate it if you would pray that God will bring me to that place of peace that passes all understanding. Paul’s counsel to the Philippian church about fear and prayer and peace needs to sink deeper into my soul.

Thanks so much, Lon

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:6-7