Shaken Saint Syndrome

My life has been without much physical suffering; mental and emotional, plenty; but personally very little as I have visited the sick and suffering for half a century as any pastor who loves his flock would do, offering prayers and support and encouraging words as long as was possible, then comforting their loved ones when death too often would raise its ugly “white” victory flag over another of its victims, then ultimately trudging out to another hole in the ground in a local cemetery where in biblical terminology would bid farewell to our friend, “earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” It never got any easier after hundreds of exercises; and the hope of seeing our loved one and friend again, never erased the pain of temporary separation even though it did make it bearable.  My last farewell and funeral was for my sweet sister, Nancy, as she was laid to rest beside her husband’s grave in a beautiful yet silent city of the dead a few blocks from where they spent most all of their adult lives. So, so many others before her, family, friends and flock that 50 years of pastoring bring to my memory that it is like a long, steady march of faces whose personalities live on in my psyche having been painted and put there with an indelible brush of life.

Sometime before and shortly after that trip to Waterloo, Iowa, to memorialize Nancy’s life, I had been dealing with some pain that would not go away.  In fact, at her son’s home, following the service, having gathered for a time of food and fellowship, I fell when leaving the house and hit a thigh very hard on a cement walk. Nothing seemed broken, but after several days of what I thought was a bad bruise was still as sore as the day that I fell. That was in early December (2021). I finally made an appointment with my family doctor who referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who ordered an MRI and then made an appointment for me with a hematologist on the basis of the MRI findings.  All of this eventuated in a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer in the blood cells that negatively impacts the bones. There is no known cause and no known cure, but aggressive treatment often will control the progression of the cancer and it may for a time go into remission.  My brother-in-law died of this disease after a courageous battle with it for half a dozen years or so, with my sister, Mary Ann, at his side.

I had resigned the full-time pastorate that had occupied me happily for 40 years in September of 2019; then, following a six week visit with Ellen to the Maranatha Village in Sebring, Florida, I assumed the job of interim pastor at the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, ministering there for a year until God brought them a fine pastor who is now full-time there and doing a splendid job. It then became my privilege to fill pulpits for pastors who were sick, on vacation or otherwise temporarily away from their pulpit. At the same time, I began writing a biweekly blog called “You and God.” My life was rewarding, the new ministry assignments fulfilling; children and grandchildren were close by and I was not yet 80 and enjoying what I thought was excellent health, taking no meds and losing some weight even through the Covid pandemic.  All was exceeding well, I thought.  Ellen was receiving good check-ups from her cancer doctor and life was all we might have asked for as we rounded the corner for life’s last laps.

Then, the dreaded diagnosis. Which brings me to the subject of this post.  Job could not have had a brighter outlook than what we read of him in Job 1. You recall the details. Wealth, family, great relationship with God, respected in his community, successful. Life was good.  Then, in one hour, on one day, Job’s world literally became unraveled right before his eyes. In Job 14:1, having been visited by three harshly judgmental friends who assessed his losses as divine punishment because of secret sins, Job blurts out, “Man that is born of a woman, is of few days, and full of trouble.” He would further affirm that his three friends were “miserable comforters.” (16:1) And, in Job 16 Job addresses what is happening to him and gives us insight into what happens to many of God’s servants, some to lesser, some to greater degree than what Job endured.

Most any believer can and will identify with something of which Job spake when, in a powerfully painted few paragraphs, Job gives his own version of what was happening. He does not draw a conclusion as to the “why” of it, but he nails the “wherefore,” and comes out on a triumphant note.

Whether your deep affliction is past or present; whether it touched you physically, emotionally or spiritually, or all of the above, you will find, I believe, some help and hope in hearing what Job said about what I am calling the “Shaken Saint Syndrome.” It has or will happen to most every saint of God. It should not overwhelm us and will not blow us away when put into Biblical perspective. There may be a sudden loss of breath, a breath-taking gut punch so to speak when it first confronts you; but you can and will stand through it all. You need not, you must not succumb to drawing unbiblical assessments of what is happening or what has happened to you or to your family member, friend or household of faith fellow pilgrim. So, I will develop this post in my next installment, Lord willing, of “You and God.”

By the way, I have not formulated this post just because of what I have earlier detailed has recently happened to me with an unwelcomed diagnosis. This is a message I preached to myself and to our church the first two Sundays of June in 1998—nine years before our sweet grandson, David, suddenly died of a ruptured appendix, followed by the deaths of Ellen’s father, my mother and father and others, including many of our church family whose ties with us were like those of blood. Stay tuned for the next post of “Shaken Saint Syndrome.”

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom.8:18)

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