While cleaning a window last week, my mobile phone rang. It was from Harefield Cardiac Hospital, announcing that my open heart operation was scheduled for the following week - if there will be no emergency admission of another patient with a life-threatening condition taking over my time slot. I began to feel jittery, and I began to feel lethargic as all different kinds of thoughts had crossed my mind. Two days later, the paperwork arrived.
I was made aware that as the sole breadwinner of our household, I would not be able to earn a penny for up to three months after the op. Here in the UK, we have a "safety net" benefit system meant for cases like this. But this won't kick in until three weeks after discharge, and going through mountains of paperwork and (miraculously) overcoming bureaucratic obstacles - well, I don't need to say more...
Except that I was overcome by a sense of deep fear and anxiety, causing my whole body to tremble. This had become worse during the early hours of the morning, along with loss of appetite, making breakfast an ordeal. But was the prospect of the coming operation the cause of all this? Rather it was the fear of the unknown, especially knowing that my particular slot will not be guaranteed. The thought of no bed being available for the night prior to the procedure had tightened the knot of fear. Then there is the outcome of my beloved wife Alex. She has been on medication for the past eighteen months. In every case it was I who kept her constant flow of prescriptions running fairly smoothly. But while I'm confined in hospital as an in-patient, there is that risk of her running out of vital medicines which would lead to catastrophic consequences.
I'm not being dramatic or even hysterical here. I have seen this happen on several occasions when she had tried to cut down her dosage under recommendations from the Doctor. On one or two occasions, I had to make an emergency call for an ambulance. But fortunately, my business accountant happen to be a good friend I knew since he left university in the 1970's, and he with his wife are happy to accommodate Alex at their home while I recover in hospital. Like this they can keep an eye on her, at least from time to time. However, one of my biggest fears would be the Doctor refusing to renew her prescription before the time he thinks best. A nightmare which has happened already.
So fear and panic set in, with myself in a far, far worse state emotionally than my beloved. Fear of the uncertainty, of the unknown, of my wife's health and well-being, of financial bankruptcy, delay and inadequacy of benefit, fear of debt or the arrival of unexpected expenses. And not to mention the procedure itself, where my whole life hangs on a machine, the possibility of cardiac infection, sloppiness or momentary lapse of the Surgeon's concentration, a glimpse of the afterlife, or even the possibility of death. So I lay in bed, my wife next to me sleeping peacefully, while I toss and turn, the emotion so intense as if a dagger was plunged into me, my limbs trembling like a jelly on a vibrating surface. Feeling crushingly lonely and yes, lost. Imagining those disliking me gladly seeing me off to my doom, even the stern or expressionless look of Jesus Christ shaking his head from side to side with the words, I never knew you!
Help me! Somebody help me! This morning, after our usual breakfast in bed, I arose and settled in a nice hot bathtub. While soaking in the heat, I was pleading;
Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, please save me, please help me!
Then a thought crossed my mind. Since I became self-employed over 34 years ago, have I ever suffered want? No, not at all. Rather I was blessed with the privilege of world travel, as well as a life relatively free of debt. But what about the time I was jobless in 1980? Yes, I had to skimp and scrape, and I recalled the sight of a couple's splendid table all laid out with abundance which brought me close to tears as I walked home without a single morsel in my stomach. Yet I didn't get into debt, and managed to pay the rent on the meagre unemployment benefit. It was then when the electricity bill arrived in the post, and I laid it before God and prayed over it. A day or so later some money came in from an anonymous source, enough to pay the bill. Then I recalled the times prior to this, going back into childhood when I didn't know the Lord. He sustained me then, including several times when I came close to death in a road accident, as well as drunkenly walking along a live rail track, and during adolescence, daring to ride a motorbike through red lights at a busy intersection. With God literally saving my life several times in the past, I thought further back to when I was conceived, and born.
That was when I thought about God of the spirits of all mankind (Numbers 16:22, Job 12:10, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Isaiah 57:16, Daniel 5:23, Zechariah 12:1, Hebrews 12:9) He was the one who breathed in the breath of life into our first parents, and into the lungs of every baby born, including myself. Then there is Psalm 139, part which reads:
Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thought from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand before me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
This is such a wonderful Psalm (at least from verses 1-18) illustrating all three of God's characteristics - his Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. When I remembered and believed all this, and how the Lord sustained me and took care of me even under such foolishness, I asked myself why wouldn't he continue to sustain us as a couple if he has sustained both of us at different times and places - despite our sin and weaknesses?
I felt my fear and anxiety assuage, to replaced by a fresher hope. Not all my fears had gone, but I did feel my spirit calm down. Also my feelings towards others had changed. Before, while I was lying in bed, I had imagined one Christian brother who dislikes me gloating over my fate, along with the expressionless visage of the Lord himself. But after this bath time revelation, I could only have love for this fellow, with the realisation that no matter who we are, our spirits have been breathed into us and sustained by God himself - not just to believers but to unbelievers as well, that is, all mankind. This is a powerful truth, and it makes everything pertaining to life as trivial and unimportant by comparison. For example, social class, which is perhaps my biggest issue, along with nationalism, race, unfair educational and wealth inequality - all pale into insignificance.
Jesus himself advised his listeners not to worry what we shall eat, what we shall drink and what we shall wear, for the pagans are always concerned about these things. But rather we are advised to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added as well (Matthew 6:25-34.) My heavenly Father knows that I need all these things. Perhaps, I may reason, this might have been okay back then, without all of today's mod-cons which cost money to have and run, with the constant stream of bills, and with them, the anxiety to keep our creditors satisfied. But even back in the days when Noah boarded the Ark he had built, or when Abraham pleaded for Sodom, or when God delivered the Decalogue from the summit of Mount Sinai, he also knew about the Internet, and about the electric, utility and fuel bills we will all have to pay.
As for myself, as you probably have guessed, I'm by nature a pessimist and a natural worrier, although in my younger days I was probably more determined, but never a true optimist. It takes a miracle of the filling of the Holy Spirit to stir a more optimistic faith, as faith is a direct opposite of fear and anxiety. But this I do know: That yes it's true that I have broken the Law, and my sins deserves Judgement. But it is also true that God loved the world so much, that he gave his only begotten Son, that anyone believing in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16) - and that remains a fact regardless of how I feel. Then there is that threefold creed which sums up the Gospel: That Christ died according to the Scriptures, that he was buried according to the Scriptures, and that he was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4-5), that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1), and whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
I think that being a true believer results in having love for my Christian fellowman, especially the one who dislikes me. Since the revelation in the bathroom, I felt my heart go out for him and his lovely wife. Perhaps that is what 1 John 5:1 really means when it says:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. The two are intertwined. One of the tests whether one is truly born again is whether he has love for his fellow believer.
This may be the last blog for a couple of weeks. I thank you for reading and following. I'll be back.