Pastor's Pen 4/3/2020
THE PASTOR’S PEN
APRIL 3, 2020
It started in May of last year – May 17th to be exact. That was the day Michele told me that she wasn’t feeling well. Little did either of us realize at the time, but this was to be the start of a journey that would involve numerous doctor appointments, a visit to the hospital emergency room on July 4th, and three very tense times of awaiting test results to determine if she had cancer or not. Several months ago a colonoscopy revealed that Michele had a mass growing in her colon. On Monday, March 23 she underwent surgery to remove the mass, and I am thrilled to report that it was benign!
Hopefully with the removal of this mass, Michele’s health will improve and return to normal. But as I reflect back on this past year, I realize that there are some very meaningful lessons that the Lord has taught me in relation to Michele’s health problems. In this Pastor’s Pen letter I would like to share with you those lessons, with the hope that they will be helpful to you.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM MICHELE’S ILLNESS
- GOD GIVES HIS GRACE ONLY WHEN WE NEED IT FOR A REAL CRISIS
I wish I could tell you that I handled Michele’s health problems with great faith and confidence in the Lord. But, that was not the case. Once I realized that that her health issue was a serious problem, I struggled with anxiety and often found myself walking down the forbidden path of worry. Part of the problem was that I made the mistake of trying to diagnose her illness by looking up her symptoms on the internet, and then concluding that she had ovarian cancer. While it turned out that she did not have ovarian cancer, my initial reaction to my foolish ‘internet diagnosis’ was to dwell on the thought that she was going to soon be dead and that I would be left to navigate my life alone, without my precious Michele.
Needless to say, this was a very difficult time in my life. Not only were my anxiety-filled thoughts sinful, but they were a waste of valuable energy. However, something I learned through all of this is that the Lord doesn’t give His grace for situations that don’t actually exist. The reason that God did not give me His grace to handle Michele’s looming death was because she wasn’t going to die from her illness. God only gives His sustaining grace when it is needed, and it is needed when we are going through a real crisis, and not an imagined one. This is the point of our Lord’s statement in Matt. 6:34 - “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”I.e. “We are not to borrow tomorrow’s problems today, because God only gives His grace for problems on the day we need it.”Eventually, I recognize this truth and applied it to my situation, but not before going through a great deal of emotional pain. Hopefully, knowing this will spare you the unnecessary pain that I experienced. The lesson I learned is that God gives His grace only when we need it at the time of a real crisis, and not a crisis we fear might be coming sometime in the future.
- IT IS VERY EASY TO REACT TO A LOVED ONE’S HEALTH PROBLEM WITH SELFISHNESS
While it was very difficult for me to see Michele in pain and discomfort, I found myself thinking far too much about myself and what my life would be like without her. Eventually I found myself totally absorbed with myself and my potential woes. And then one day Michele said to me, “You know, I’m the one who isn’t feeling good – not you. All you are thinking about is yourself and how my illness affects you.” Ouch. That hurt, but she was absolutely right, and I am thankful she told me the truth.
Selfishness and self-absorption are natural tendencies in all of us because of the Fall of man. We are all, by virtue of our fallen flesh, self-centered beings. It is only by the indwelling power of Christ that we have the enabling strength to die to our self-interests and lovingly serve others – putting their welfare and needs ahead of our own (Philippians 2:3-4). It took a trial like Michele’s health problem to show me how selfish I was, and how easy it was for me to have a pity-party. Eventually, I realized this truth, and fought back against the sinful urge to think about how Michele’s health – and possible death – would affect me. It’s been a good lesson to learn because I have seen how deep and ingrained my fleshly selfishness really is. Hating my sin of selfishness has only made me long to be more Christlike in my love and unselfishness. The lesson I learned in all of this is to think more about the person who is suffering, instead of dwelling on how their suffering is affecting me.
III. IT IS EASY TO MAKE SOMEONE YOU LOVE AN IDOL
Corrie Ten Boom, a believer who survived the Holocaust, once said, “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” What a profound and true statement, and one that is especially applicable when it comes to those we love. This May Michele and I will celebrate 45 years of marriage. Over those years my love for her has grown and matured. But there’s always the danger that one’s love for their spouse can turn into sinful idolatry. I’m afraid that out of fear of losing my wife I was guilty of making her an idol, so that in the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “I held on to her too tightly”. An idol is something (or someone) who we feel we must have or else we can’t be content or happy. It is something (or someone) who we cherish to the degree that should be reserved only for the Lord. In the name of love I was guilty of making an idol of my wife.
Eventually I realized my sin, repented, and received the Lord’s peace. Something that I have learned during this ordeal is that, while there is no one who means more to me on earth than Michele, she cannot be a substitute for the Lord. Only He can satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. Only He is worthy of my adoration. Only He is to be the object of my worship.
I’m thankful that the Lord, in His kindness, did not “pry open my fingers” and take Michele from me. I know that eventually that will happen because death is inevitable for all of us, and those we have loved dearly will be taken from us. But for those who know Christ as their Savior that separation is brief. Until then, we should enjoy, to the fullest degree, those special relationships the Lord has given us with others, while we guard our hearts from making them idols. This is the lesson I have learned, and one that I pass on to you.
PS – While this letter is not about the Coronavirus, I would like to recommend that you listen to a 5-minute video on YouTube by Joni Eareckson Tada by the name of A CALMING WORD DURING THE CORONAVIRUS. I think you’ll find it very encouraging and comforting.
Yours in Christ’s love,