Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fear and Courage

I woke up awhile ago to the thought that I should delete all posts from the last few days ~ all the posts which show me at my worst and are little more than a self-indulgent dip here and there into the fears and sadnesses that accompany breast cancer and its treatment.

I've decided to leave them up, for the time being anyway, as a reminder to me, even if to no one else, of how easy it is to slide into a state of fearfulness and to let anxiety about myself and my well-being control my decision-making and, ultimately, define who I am.

One of the things about Joel Osteen and his ilk that sends me into a paroxysm of sarcasm is his  constant emphasis on "I" ~ that "I" who is, indeed, filled with fear and pain, who feels alone and terrified and unheard ~ as the solution to my own anxiety, as if my own anxiety were, indeed, the problem.

The reality is that my anxiety is nothing more than the symptom of the real challenge, that challenge being the ease with which illness and loss and all that accompanies them separate me from the confidence that a loving God is laboring on my behalf in all circumstances.

Last night my daughter unwittingly offered me a clue that set me on a new path in unraveling this mystery of challenge and response.  Hearing the story of my early-morning pre-surgery procedure for the first time, she shook her head and said, "I don't understand why the doctors don't listen to you.  You really did everything that you could in advance to explain that your experience of pain is apparently an unusual one.  It sounds like the surgeon nodded and then went on automatic pilot, and then was surprised at the outcome.  It might have been better for her to have said, 'This doesn't usually hurt but, given your description of past procedures, I can't guarantee that.' "

Yes, that kind of candor might have made things a bit easier.  (Also: If she had not insisted that my friend leave.  Note to self: Leave no stone unturned in your preparation.)

But perhaps the important question has little to do with medical procedures or with my response to them.  Perhaps the real question is the one that my professor asked over and over again in my ordination sermon: What is Jesus doing?  Or, as I might put it, in perhaps a less Reformed and more Ignatian manner: into what is God inviting me?

Let's start with reality: I are not young, or strong, or brave, or beautiful, or pain-free, and no insistence otherwise will make me so. (No, I'm not fishing for compliments.  I'm trying to think this through.) But then, if this is not about me, those cover-of-People-Magazine attributes matter little.  What matters is:  What is God doing?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say: "Ya got me."

But seriously.  Last summer, Jesuit Father Jim Martin said on The Colbert Report that God's job is to sustain the universe.  If that's the case, and if we believe that what God is doing is, in fact, God's job ~ sustaining the universe ~ then what questions should we be asking, what invitation should we be looking for, during these times when it does, indeed, seem that God is dropping and losing things all over the place?


  1. Do not remove one single word of what you've written. Without the previous posts, neither you nor your faithful readers, would have arrived at today's thought provoking entry. Please remember that you are, as a pastor, writer, and friend, also a generous teacher in whose experiences and writings, are teaching each of us about many many many aspects of life, living, loving, learning, and of course, faith.
    Thank you, my friend.

  2. Please leave what you have up. I have a friend who is working on a chaplaincy/palliative care program in pediatrics. Every time I read a post from you I think that I should share it with her. I see her infrequently and want to introduce these ideas to her in a more personal way. The particular combinations of experiences and your reflections (even when you perceive yourself at less than your best) are helpful in articulating the medical experience, loss, and change from the point of view of a person of faith.

  3. AJ, I hope that you're also sending your friend to Karen Gerstenberger's blog(s) -- Gberger in my sidebar.

  4. Robin, the beauty in your writing has always been the remarkable human candor with which you approach things spiritual. You obviously have a singular understanding of complex spirituality, but you are amazingly adept at connecting those high-brow, often confusing theories to the experience of your daily life. If you were to remove the posts of the last few days, you would destroy an important chapter in the Book of Your Life which you have invited us to read and from which we daily learn much of value. I vote for leaving your posts exactly as they are.

  5. Robin, your posts are authentic expressions of your journey through this challenging time and they will speak powerfully to others facing similar challenges in their lives. God's spirit directed the writing so it is best to share what God wants to say through you.

    God bless.

  6. Robin, eachnof your posts has been honest, heartfelt, appropriate reflections on your experience of being vulnerable. I have read them all, and am grateful you have shared. I don't always leace a comment, but I am holding you in prayer.