For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)
The time between my diagnosis with cancer and the surgery to remove the tumor was the most difficult period to get through. I spent a good deal of time waiting: waiting for test results, waiting for my first appointment with the surgeon, then for the second appointment, then for the surgery. At each juncture fears and doubts that had receded since the previous appointment or piece of information were stirred up again. I had so many thoughts and feelings to process and just when I thought I had made my peace with them, there was something additional to deal with or reconsider. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving I moved emotionally and spiritually from a sense of despair to one of hopefulness. But as I neared the date of my second appointment with my surgeon, fear and doubt began to emerge again. Would this second appointment be as upsetting as the first, I wondered?
Fear is an anxious response to something we cannot control or make sense of. It is closely related to doubt. In the New Testament the Greek word for doubt, διστάζω (pronounced, “distazo”), means to waver, hesitate, be uncertain. The root word, δις (“dis”) means two ways. Therefore, “doubt” is the condition of a person who cannot choose between two paths that are placed before her. Sometimes she inclines toward one, then the other, but she chooses neither. Fear creates a kind of mental and spiritual paralysis that leads to doubt. Faith, as opposed to doubt and fear, is the ability to choose – to choose to follow God’s path, to believe in him despite what others say or what circumstances arise. To be able to choose to follow the Lord means a person has not let fear undermine her faith. The writer to the Hebrews sums up faith like this: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (11:1)
After my first appointment with Dr. Weissler I reached a point where I could believe that God could heal me, despite the grim statistic of survival for those with a tumor as aggressive as mine and the likelihood that the right side of my face would be paralyzed permanently. However, I began to waver as fear gnawed at my confidence in the Lord just before my second appointment. It occurred to me that maybe I should prepare myself for “the worst.” This was a habit I learned early in life. It was a hedge against experiencing the sting of disappointment. When viewed in this light, not to accept my doctor’s prognosis seemed impractical, even recklessly naïve. Surely, decades of experience doing the same operation I was about to undergo taught him well. He was an expert on this type of tumor and the surgery to remove it. If I didn’t take his word as truth, wasn’t I setting myself up to be totally devastated?
Yet, I also knew there was something deliberately faithless in choosing to expect the worst. I recalled Agnes Sanford’s advice about healing prayer. She taught that it was important when praying to the Lord for healing, to pray as the Holy Spirit directs and to envision the person for whom we are praying as receiving the healing being asked for – and not to envision the person suffering under the affliction for which prayer was being offered. God uses the imagination, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to give us a glimpse of what is possible for Him to do. So, if we pray as He directs, yet do not “see” with the eyes of our heart what He’s directing us to ask for, and instead envision the opposite, then in effect, we are praying without faith – we are practicing doubt.
As I thought about Mrs. Sanford’s advice some more, I realized that God was not asking me to ignore the information my doctor gave me. In fact, in order to trust God I would need to acknowledge the seriousness of my situation from a medical standpoint. I couldn’t have faith in God to save me unless I first came to terms with the fact that I needed to be saved from something. So faith does not require we ignore unpleasant facts with which we’ve been presented. Instead it means we deliberately choose in the face of such facts to believe that God can overcome and redeem whatever situation in which we find ourselves. Having faith does not ignore a present reality; instead it chooses to trust that God can do something despite it, for nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
As I continued to pray, the Holy Spirit showed me how my fears were blocking God’s power to work in me because I was making an idol of them; I was giving them way more attention than the Lord. So in order to receive the healing God had for me I would need to stop giving my fears the freedom to monopolize my thoughts and instead focus on the Lord and his ability to do infinitely more than I could ask or imagine. It all came down to choosing to worship God and not my fears. However, unless I deliberately chose the Lord, I would continue passively choosing my fears. So, from that point on, whenever the Holy Spirit brought to my attention that I was, in effect, bowing down to fear, I imagined myself straightening up and lifting my arms heavenward, offering praise and adoration to the Lord.
On the Saturday before my second visit with Dr. Weissler, the following verse spoke to me as I was reading the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and I wrote it into my prayer journal: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (v.5). As I prayed about it, I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me that this verse should characterize my thoughts and actions each time I found myself in Dr. Weissler’s waiting room. I was to direct my focus away from myself and toward my fellow patients sitting nearby waiting for their names to be called. Whenever I made eye contact with them, I was to smile encouragingly, giving “evidence” of the hope that was within me and then I was to pray silently for them as the Holy Spirit directed. The Lord’s word back to me as I prayed some more about this verse was, “My job is to heal you; I’ve got that covered. Your job is to pray for those around you.”
So, on Monday morning, November 28, 2011, Gil and I headed back to the E.N.T clinic at the UNC Neurosciences Hospital. This time our stay in the waiting room was much different. I spent my time, not focused on my concerns, but instead discreetly looking around and praying for whomever the Holy Spirit set my eyes upon. I prayed for the Lord’s presence to permeate that room. I imagined his angels in the aisles and hallways praising him and bringing tidings of his peace. This spiritual discipline was a tremendous blessing to me. Not only did it fill me with a sense of purpose and keep me from welcoming fear and doubt back into my mind, it also opened my eyes to the plight of my fellow patients. I prayed that they would come to know the hope to which God calls us (Ephesians 1:18).
Eventually, my name was called and as we walked down the long hallway to an examining room, I continued to pray for whomever I passed by. When we reached the examining room where I would meet with Dr. Weissler, I asked the Lord to fill it with his presence. Thankfully this visit was much different from the first. There were no residents and interns checking me over as if I was a specimen and not a human being and when Dr. Weissler entered the room his attitude seemed less clinical than the week before. He examined with compassion my partially paralyzed face and said he would speak with his scheduler to see if my surgery date could be moved up. This was welcome news! As Gil and I walked out of the examining room and down the hall, I looked back and saw Dr. Weissler entering the room where the woman who schedules his surgeries works. I had a good feeling about it all.
Next, we walked over to the surgical pre-op department, where I completed the necessary paperwork and blood work that is required before surgery. Because it was near lunchtime by the time I finished, we stopped to get something to eat in the hospital cafeteria. Shortly afterward we headed for home. When we walked in the door at 2:20 pm, we found a phone message waiting for us: the surgery had been rescheduled for Tuesday, December 6, eight days away – and a full week earlier than the original date! Gil and I threw our arms around one another and offered thanks to the Lord. I couldn’t wait to email all the people who were praying for me and tell them the Lord had moved powerfully in answer to prayer again.