A young Tom Petty sang that "the waiting is the hardest part", and my guess is we can all agree with him on one level or another. Today is the four week anniversary of my medical odyssey dealing with pancreatitis, blood work and IV's, ultrasounds, CT scans, supposed pancreatic cancer, a scheduled Whipple surgery, X-rays and EKG's, MRI's, needle biopsies, a surgical biopsy, PET scan, and bone marrow aspiration. So, you might be asking, where are we after this "full meal plan" of diagnostics?
We're still waiting.
On Friday, we received the pathology report from my surgical chest biopsy. While the results are consistent with large b-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, there are some elements which are puzzling to the IU pathologists, so they have sent the sample to the National Institutes of Health to have a top cancer pathologist render her opinion.
We hope to learn more about her views by next Wednesday when I have an appointment with an Oncologist/Hematologist at IU. On Monday, I meet with a supportive care doctor to determine how to best build and support my immune system. Later in the week, we plan to travel to Northwestern University Medical School to consult with an oncologist/hematologist who specializes in rarer forms of lymphoma, as it seems that mine is not quite "garden variety".
So, why is waiting so difficult for most of us? It seems to first be an issue of control - as in, who's in control. When we are waiting on someone or something, that person or event has a measure of control over our lives. Whether we are waiting at a stoplight, waiting for a friend to show up at a meeting place, waiting on your spouse to head out the door, waiting on a response to a job application, waiting on a medical diagnosis, even waiting to see a loved one again in heaven, waiting can be frustrating and create impatience and anxiety in our lives.
In the midst of my health uncertainties, however, God is teaching me an important truth that I know intellectually, but often behave as if I do not: I am not ultimately in control of my own existence, but God is. It is easy with our technology and wealth in the USA to fool ourselves into thinking we have more control over our lives than we really do. This line of thinking may seem like a giving up of control, but I would suggest that it is closer to surrendering the illusion that we were in ultimate control to begin with.
If we are not ultimately in control, then who/what is? A high percentage of people today might say "chance", even "fate", or possibly some form of impersonal "providence". Many would say "God"; however, their conception of God is closer to the deist's notion of him as the absent clockmaker who created the world and then went off on some cosmic vacation in another galaxy. Not only should we reject the modernists' belief in random chance or the notion of blind fate, but also the view that God is somehow uninvolved in the lives of his people. This absent God is certainly not the Heavenly Father to whom Jesus Christ bore witness in the gospels: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." (Mt. 10:29-31)
If control is the first issue making the wait hard, then trust becomes the second. If I cannot ultimately trust in myself or the randomness of life, then is God trustworthy? I believe He is. Jesus taught and demonstrated to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Mt. 7:7,8) He also promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (Jn 11:25,26) In the shortest statement of God's trustworthiness, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:8 "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Ok, if God - in and through Christ - has demonstrated his trustworthiness, why does He make us wait? Control and trust. He knows that by making us wait on Him, even in the midst of suffering, pain and confusion, we will come to know that He is in control and we are not. Further, when we turn to Him and ask in Jesus' name, we discover Him to be loving and faithful on our behalf. . . always. Read the Bible, and you will see that nearly all of its stories have to do with people waiting on the Lord to save them, reveal himself to them, or deliver them. Noah waited for months on the rain, Abraham and Sarah waited for decades for a son, Job waited in pain and in loss for restoration, Moses and the Israelites waited and wandered for two generations in the desert, David waited in exile for 13 years for the promised throne of Israel, and Mary and Martha even waited on Jesus while Lazarus lay in the grave for four days.
I am forced, then, to disagree with Tom Petty. Waiting is not necessarily the hardest part, it is often the essential part, because it drives us to the only One who has satisfying answers to our deepest questions. Psalm 40, written by King David (quite possibly while in exile), has meant much to me during these past four weeks. "I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."
Waiting on a difficult diagnosis has not been easy, but it has been good in many ways. I am not in ultimate control of my destiny, as I have been abruptly reminded over the past few weeks, but I know the One who is. And He is good and trustworthy and always faithful. . . regardless of the circumstances.
In Christ alone,