As a pastor, I’ve made hundreds of hospital calls and sat in the homes of hundreds of people facing frightening diagnoses. I’ve prayed with and cared for people battling cancer. Most survived; for others, their situations were terminal. I’ve been to visit the dying at our area hospice palliative care center. I’ve cared for a half-dozen people who faced lengthy battles with ALS. I’ve been moved and inspired by so many of these people, learning from them how they faced illness with courage and hope. I’d like to share one of their stories with you.
Allen is thirty-eight and waging a battle with leukemia that he may not win. He’s hoping to be accepted for one final experimental trial that appears to be his last hope for medical treatment.
Allen began his career as a lawyer and had a bright future ahead of him. That’s when I first met him and eventually became his pastor. Several years later, he began to feel a call to ordained ministry. His wife was supportive, and Allen went to seminary and eventually was ordained as a United Methodist pastor. He was serving a large congregation in a northern suburb of Kansas City when he received his diagnosis.
Allen noted the three types of fear he’s dealt with: the fear of death, the fear of pain, and the fear for his family. He was afraid not only about the emotional impact his death would have on his parents and his wife, Ashley, but also about mundane things like how his wife would deal with their finances after his death. “There are so many things I can’t control,” he said, “but I have been able to work on an estate plan and sought to make things as easy as possible on Ashley in the event of my death.” His call several months ago asking me to preach his funeral was an example of his making preparations so that Ashley wouldn’t have to. He spoke with his doctors about his fear of pain; they assured him that they could effectively control it with the pain meds currently available. That was reassuring to him.
But when it came to the fear of death, he told me that he simply did not feel afraid. “Years ago I came to accept that we are mortal creatures, that we are going to die,” he said. “We have no guarantees, Adam, as to how long we’ll live. Being human means we’re going to die. My faith has played a huge part in eliminating the fear of sickness and death. As you’ve taught us, and Frederick Buechner before you, because of Jesus Christ, the worst thing is not the last thing. My faith in him changed everything on this front. Because of his death and resurrection, I am not afraid to die.” This sounded an awfully lot like facing our fears with faith, and releasing our worries and cares to God.
Allen told me that among the things that had brought him peace were prayer and meditation. “I have not set aside time to pray—my entire existence is becoming an ongoing prayer, a conversation and togetherness with God that has resulted in a peace that continues to grow.”