I didn’t write last week. I’m sorry for that. I try to write once a week. I know that most people organize their weeks around my posting schedule, so I’m sorry for rocking your world. I was busy, though. I was busy trying to deal with the fact that I was dying.
10 days ago, I walked into a morning meeting and realized that I had never really come down from my workout that morning. My heart was pumping a little faster and I felt a bit… tense. I realized that I felt, physically, like I do when I’m worrying about something. But the thing was, I couldn’t think of anything I was worried about. The feeling lingered, worryingly, throughout the day. I thought I’d feel better after a night’s sleep. I didn’t. I felt more tired and weaker. I began to worry that there was something wrong with my heart. Was I experiencing warning signs of a heart attack? I felt weird. I paid very close attention to myself, so I felt even weirder.
Sunday, I felt a bit better. Monday and Tuesday mornings, I woke up and worked out and felt great doing it. But afterwards, I started to feel strange again each day. I was convinced that I was about to have a heart attack and die. I wrote a letter to my wife and left it open on the computer so that she could find it easily after I inevitably died. And if I wasn’t sure that I was going to die, I was sure that I was going to go to the hospital and be saddled with life-changing debt.
Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I woke up because I thought I heard a sound that I hear from our pipes when our septic drain field is getting full. I started to worry about that and then the worry boulder rolled down the hill. My pulse picked up even more. Adrenaline flooded my body. I felt shaky as I walked outside to breathe in the cool air and try to slow everything down. I was very close to waking up my wife to tell her that we needed to go to the hospital. The moment I had been dreading, the moment I was sure was coming, was finally here. My heart was going to explode.
It didn’t. But I wanted to see a doctor. I got an appointment for Thursday morning. I woke up again in the middle of the night with a similar feeling, but without the near-panic peak. Thursday, the doctor looked me over, did an EKG, and listened. Everything came back… fine. Better than good. I had a “normal, athletic heart.” Just hearing the reassurance that my heart appeared to be ok caused tension to roll off my back. I felt so much better just hearing those words. They were worth whatever it will cost me to have gone through those tests.
I’ve felt better since then. Friday, I still had waves of unexplained anxiety, but I was able to stay calmer because I knew I wasn’t about to die. At least… not this way. I decided to go for a walk and pray and relax. I’ve been even better ever since. I still haven’t slept great, but I’ve never been a great sleeper. And I have three kids, so there’s a pretty decent chance that I’m needed in the middle of the night.
As far as anyone can tell, I’m not dying.
But I thought I was. I wasn’t actually staring death down, but I kind of was. Can I tell you some things I discovered about myself?
I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to spend more time with my wife. I really love, Erin. I have such fun with her and I truly look forward to being crotchety old people together. I imagine that my wife will be ripping down boards and remodeling homes while I’m trying to remember to scrub my dentures (if I bother to put them in that day). She is kind and good and I was sad that I would not get to care for her and be cared for by her. I didn’t want her to go it alone. I didn’t want to miss out on things that we still want to do together.
I was really sad for my kids. The thought of my son never really knowing me even though he lights up my mornings (when I take care of him before going to teach) like a thousand suns. I was sad for my daughters that I wouldn’t get to have a voice for my them when they would wade into a world that talks nonsense to them all day long. I don’t want them to have to go through life without a dad, even though I’m no superstar. I at least want to be there.
You know what else I saw? I saw doubt chased out of the dark corners of my soul. My confidence in the destiny of the soul and the future life of the body was shaken a bit. I’m afraid to say out loud how much that doubt roared through me. Would I REALLY live again after I die? I hear the ludicrous nature of that proposition. When you are facing the edge of the void, voices that whisper through your mind tend to roar.
Do you know what was reassuring, though? I found that, even as I wrestled with my emotional acceptance of something I’ve rationally accepted regarding life after death (and life after life after death), I found that I still trusted Jesus. I mean, I trust Him. I tend not to ignore my doubts. I engaged them when I come into contact with them. I think engaging doubt is part of having faith. As wave after wave of fear and doubt flew at me, though, I found Jesus standing there on top of the sea that was trying to drown me. I wasn’t afraid of how I felt about him. I really just felt, in the very core of me, that I just trust him. I trust him to do what is good and right with me when I die. I didn’t stumble upon this trust and then watch the stress melt away as if banished by a white magic. The stress, the inexplicable anxiety was swirling all around me. But as I held on tight to the railing and breathed deep, I felt that I could hold on to Jesus’ hand.
Faith is often caricatured as delusions of certainty maintained by eyes shut tight or the super-ability of the will to out-faith those opposing factors. Both Christians and non-Christians play off this caricature. But I don’t think this is Biblical faith. Biblical faith isn’t blind to the objections or the things that make the object of your faith seem laughable. Biblical faith takes all of those things into account and says, “I see you, Darkness. I see you, Doubt. But I trust Jesus.” I have rational reasons for that. I have emotional reasons. Theological reasons. But as simply as I can explain it, I simply have trust that Jesus is going to do good to me.
Maybe I would be a better Christian if I could trust that more fully. Maybe I should be able to have no fear, no worry, no anxiety. In fact, I know some part of this whole episode is a revelation of how weak and frail I am. But God was never one for the strong, the put-together. I know that God wants better for me, but he takes me at my worst. He came to heal the sick and find the lost. He came for people like me.
So my faith, my trust in Jesus isn’t close to perfect. But that night, last week, it was enough to close my eyes tight, breath deep, and hold on. It was enough to find myself reaching out and simply asking to be held until it was all over. I trust Jesus to do that for me, to do that with me. I may not trust him enough to banish my anxiety. But I trust him enough to survive it.