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

 

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Our Need His Help

Heavenly Father,

Make us always aware of our great need;

And always aware of Your constant grace.

Lord Jesus,

Make us always aware of our great need;

And always aware of Your perfect redemption.

Spirit of God,

Make us always aware of our great need;

And always aware of Your supporting strength.

Almighty, Triune God,

Make us always aware of our great need;

Always aware of Your purpose in our need,

And Your promise to those who trust in You.

Making Spiritual Life Adjustments

Any Christian who is familiar with the Bible knows that the most significant aspect of the Christian life is God’s grace: salvation is His gift. It is by grace alone that we are saved, through faith in Christ alone. He or she also knows that the most significant and practical way to experience God’s grace is to attend to God’s regular means of grace: private prayer and Bible reading, along with public worship and receiving of sacraments.

For this reason Christians are encouraged to develop a habit of daily prayer and Bible reading. An easy way to start this habit is to think about three things: a time, a place, and a plan. Because of my work location and commute, my habit has been 7:30 am, at work, reading through whole books of the Bible and writing in a Moleskine journal.

Until recently.

Due to a health problem with my back, my daily schedule has changed and I don’t get to work early enough to keep my regular prayer habit. So, I have adjusted and that’s the subject I want to share with you today.

I could have just changed to praying at home alone before leaving for work. But, I decided to do something different for this season of my life, which is 4 months so far, and probably a few more. I pray with my wife, Dawn, and listen to the Bible on my iPhone during my commute.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this adjustment that I am experiencing.

ADVANTAGES

1. My wife and I love praying together every day by sharing our prayer requests. Dawn prays for me. I pray for her. We have always prayed together, so it’s not a new thing for us. But, praying with her daily is new and beneficial. This is something I’ll want to continue after this time of life. BTW – if you are a Christian husband, part of your role as husband and/or father is to cultivate the spiritual life of your family. Praying out loud with your family is a key element of that.

2. I love hearing large sections of the Bible at once. I might read a chapter or two, but I might listen to five, six, or even ten chapters at a time during my commute. This gives me a better sense of the broad sweep of a Bible book, especially narrative books like the gospels and much of the Old Testament. Also, since I usually back up a chapter or two each day, I hear more of Scripture repeated to me more frequently, which is good for retention and spurs reflection.

DISADVANTAGES

1. There is less time for reflection and repentance, and my journal has been set aside for now. Over the long haul, it will be better for me to give adequate attention to reflect on my deep, desperate need for grace, and the true state of my soul. I can be too easily fooled into thinking self-sufficiently about my spiritual life.

2. I’m not meditating on Scripture as much. It’s hard to hit the pause button while driving to think about the verse or sentence you just heard. Considering Scripture carefully is much easier when the Bible is in print before my eyes.

ENCOURAGEMENT

The encouragement I want to leave you with is first, to find a time, a place, and a plan to experience God’s grace in your life. This is how God has ordained to mold you into Christ’s image: by His Spirit’s work in you through the means of prayer of Bible study. Don’t underestimate how important this is. Second, pray with your spouse. Don’t underestimate how much love, trust, forgiveness and healing can spring like water from the simple moment of hearing your loved one bring your need before the Father. And third, since we all experience different seasons of life—singleness, child-rearing, sickness, health, two jobs, retirement, out-of-work—don’t be afraid to make adjustments to meet your spiritual needs during each time.

Grace to you,

Lon