August 8th, 2013
I was eleven at the time, but I took note of, if briefly and unreflectively, my parents recent pattern of speaking in hushed tones while in another room. Or the way my mother would sometimes give a knowing look to a visiting friend as a cue to step into an adjoining space for a private conversation.
Then one day–it was in the kitchen–my mother stepped from the window bathed in afternoon sun, drying her hands while brimming with tears, to tell me that she was to have an operation soon. Something called cancer. She hugged me, held me, and then the moment ended. But from then on something shifted in me: a sense, perhaps for the first time, that this world was not a safe place.
Her surgery was apparently successful. (I don’t remember asking questions even though I had them.) The chemo and radiation appeared to have done their proper work. For nearly five years, cancer had been pushed to the margins, still a thought but ostensibly no longer a threat.
And then, nearing the end of my 8th grade year, the hushed tones began again. This time, either because the situation was more grave (which it was) or that I was older (which I was), it all took an even more ominous turn.
To the hospital she returned, not for surgery, but for a more rigorous and more desperate set of treatments. Treatments that would not succeed, confirmed only when her oncologist sat me down to explain there was nothing more to do. Now only making her comfortable was in order.
I’d been born into the church, reared by her and her stories, mesmerized by the sights, smells, and dress of unfamiliar places and times, and enchanted by this Child who would be a King.
But while my mother was dying, if I ever said a prayer for her healing I don’t remember it. If ever to God I cried out in my fear to help me face the terrorizing surreality of this moment, it has no place in my memory.
Instead I turned inward and went silent, and did all I could to block out what frightening–even shutting the door to my bedroom just across the hall from her room as if to insulate myself from the sounds and smells of approaching death. This was, as Stephen King once remarked, a death only modern medicine could provide.
I was fifteen as she lay dying. Few things (anything?) could have prepared this sheltered, suburban only-child for what would overtake and eventually consume his mother. Yet, what I did with fear then is not far off the mark with how I’ve been tempted to handle fear ever since: conceal it, suppress it, avoid it, try to pretend it’s not there. Not everyone responds to fear the same way I did (do?), but for those who do it seems almost instinctual.
While this life will never be devoid of fear, and while there are myriad bits of wisdom passed down through the ages of how to face it, Jesus, in His most transparent encounter with fear offers to us something unique.
John says perfect Love casts out all fear. (I John 4:18)
I wonder if Jesus says to us from Gethsemane that there’s a Perfect Fear that casts out all fear? An object of Ultimate Concern whose effect is to give proper size to what else might strike us with fear.
In this life, it’s not a matter of if you’ll fear, but how.
We’re in Mark 14:32-42 this Sunday. Gethsemane. When the fear was palpable and the temptation not to face it, or to run from it was equally so.
His passion was the path to His Cross, but it was more than just His trial. It was His greatest lived parable. As He was tormented, He taught. And I think in the Garden He taught us something important about fear.
The greatest challenge to preaching about fear is to become trite. I pray it would not. I ask that you’d pray likewise.
And while you’re praying would you also pray. . .
- For Gary and Debbie Doan as she travels to New Orleans to help welcome her daughter Shelley’s new twin boys, born this very day!
- for our venue search committee. New viable properties have emerged with Sunday morning and afternoon availability. Pray for keen wisdom as the committee and the session sifts through these possibilities
- for the men who’ll begin training to become elders and deacons–some in the fall in a more accelerated form, and others in the winter in a more comprehensive form. (and take note: in place of Q&A this Sunday, session member Richard Davis will give an update concerning our preparation of elders as well as the path to “particularization”–the process whereby CtK would become a church with its own elected elders. If at all possible, plan to stick around for 2nd hour to hear from Richard.
peace to you,