In 2005, I experienced what, for me, was a real crisis. In the spring, I began to feel a constant sensation of fullness in my stomach. It had nothing to do with how much I ate. And, while it was not extremely painful, it was very uncomfortable. I knew something was not right.
Finally, Judy convinced me to make an appointment with our family doctor. I did, and I went and for my consultation shortly thereafter.
He was a very good doctor, very interested in treating the whole person, not just the part of the person that was sick. He knew all about my family history–that my great-grandfather had died of stomach cancer, and my father had died of stomach cancer as well at age 52.
As my doctor began to listen to my symptoms and examined me, he formulated an opinion. He excused himself and left the room; a few minutes later, he returned saying he had scheduled a CAT scan for me the following morning. I knew he was concerned, because it was unusual to schedule a CAT scan that quickly.
I underwent a CAT scan, and as soon as the information was ready, my doctor scheduled another consultation. After I arrived, I sat down, and my physician told me, “I have good news for you. You don't have cancer.”
I asked him, “So do I have anything?”
“No,” he said, “you are just fine.”
“So why do I feel this constant sensation of fullness.”
“Stress! But I don't feel stressed.”
He just laughed.
The doctor went on to explain to me that just because you don't feel stressed, it does not mean you are not experiencing stress. He began to teach me that stress is something besides feeling anxious, nervous, or strung out.
Indeed, looking back, I was under a tremendous amount of stress. I was in the doctoral program at ACU, our family had just welcomed two foster children into our home whom we would ultimately adopt, I was trying to remain involved in the lives of our two natural born daughters, I was a full-time preacher to our church, I was a police chaplain, I was very involved in our community, and, oh yeah, I was trying to be a good husband.
I enjoyed my life, and that was part of the problem. I was trying to do so much, my central nervous system was becoming like a motor stuck in gear. However, since I enjoyed my life so much, I did not notice.
I was very fortunate to catch this when I did. I know this sounds melodramatic, but considering my temperament and my family history, to this day, I believe if I had continued my lifestyle, it would have killed me within a few years.
Living was fun. I was happy. Nevertheless, in those few days, I learned, living life unchecked would kill me.
Just a couple of weeks after that consultation, I began a weeklong class at ACU concerning the subject of spiritual formation. It was part of my program. That class changed my life.
Our two professors, Jeff Childers and David Wray, introduced us to a wealth of biblical and Christian literature concerning the process of the Christian being transformed into the image of Christ.
They did so addressing not only the spiritual man, but the whole man-mind, body, and spirit. I learned that integrity is not just doing the right thing when no one is looking, it is knowing the peace, or, as the Jews said, the shalom of God.
This world is fallen, which inevitably propels creation toward disintegration. Instead of moving toward the shalom of God, we naturally move toward the brokenness and fragmentation of the Evil One.
If the mind, body, and spirit are out of whack, it will impact the other facets of our being. To phrase it in an ineloquent way, in 2005, my life became whomper-jawed.
My mind and body were racing far ahead of my spirit; I was headed down a path of destruction. I don’t think the next step would have been rampaging a post office, but I would have suffered some sort of breakdown.
One aspect our class focused on was the spiritual disciplines. Many of the strategies were effective; the one most effective for me was probably meditation.
That week, I radically reoriented my life spiritually. I made the decision to slow down my life physically and mentally. I began to carve aside time every day to get into the Word. Rather than reading sections of Scripture, I began to focus on small pieces of Scripture—sometimes as small as just a single verse. I would pray over and over again a prayer of confession. Then I would breathe in and out and remind myself that God had made my lungs and had given me the breath of life—and His blessings were still sustaining me.
Let’s say my meditation for the day (sometimes I would meditate on the same passage for months) was Psalm 84:3, Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. I would focus on that verse over and over and over again. I would dwell on the verse. I would do this day after day. (In time, I would naturally memorize this verse and it would readily appear in my mind and heart.)
After I strategically addressed the spirituality of my life, the potentially stressful life situations were NOT eliminated. A couple of months after my class, my mother underwent a minor procedure and an artery burst in her kidney; she almost died. My sister and her husband flew in from their home in Seattle. My mother’s doctor told us to prepare the funeral. Fortunately, mom survived.
Our attempt to adopt our two foster children faced severe challenges.
A church in Tyler kept bugging us about possibly coming to work with them. (It was Shiloh, and we ultimately moved there.) We had some life altering decisions to make.
Interestingly enough, I did not suffer any physical problems during this time. I slept well every night for seven, eight, and sometimes, nine hours.
In early 2005, before I began meditating on God and His Word, there would be a few times I would wake up in the middle of the night. My heart would be racing, and I would start to sweat heavily. (I guess I was experiencing stress at those times!)
After I began to address my spiritual life, anytime an outside source would wake me up (a child, a dog barking…), I would address the situation and lie back down. I would begin meditating on God or on His word, and I would pray. Soon, relaxation would come and I would go back to sleep.
During my spare time, I would find myself naturally trying to center on God and meditate and think about him. Peace-shalom-was a byproduct of spiritual discipline.
[Here, I cannot help but think of two of my favorite verses regarding meditation:
When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches… (Ps. 63:6.) NASB
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Ps. 1:2.) NIV]
Now, I am a fallen human being, and I'm fully prepared for the possibility that I will face new challenges. I know someday I will die, no matter what I do.
Spiritually, I know the purpose of life is not to try to live forever. I know that our primary pursuit is not good health. I know I continue to need to open up to new ways to grow in Christ.
I am not trying to impose Christian meditation as a self-help cure-all.
What I am trying to say is this; a wonderful byproduct of cultivating the spiritual disciplines is peace--shalom. By pursuing the inner life with God, a person finds his spirit integrating with his mind and body. A wonderful byproduct of peace is a more stable physical, mental, and emotional health—and I am grateful for that.
It has been decades since I have feared dying. (I do fear pain, but that is a different post.) However, I appreciate the stewardship of living. The fact is… God used my stomach to signal to me that my inner life was not right.
I needed some prodding to more fully embrace and enjoy God. I needed more completely to die to self and orient my life around God.
This is an art more than a science. I don’t always get it right, but my life is so much richer for the effort.
In my forties, I finally realized that living is dying, and dying is living.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. The Rangers insist on making this pennant race interesting. Neftali Feliz had better watch out. With a new closer on the roster, Mike Adams, Feliz may get more rest than he bargained for.
2. I finally got to see the last HARRY POTTER movie on Saturday. (Possible Spoiler Alert!) I thought they did a marvelous job portraying Snape’s memory. I also love the way the movie depicted the gospel story—as found in Rowling’s final volume. Moreover, I had forgotten, until the movie reminded me, that Harry Potter renounced the chance for awesome power by destroying the wand.
This was a glorious movie.
Authors such as J. K. Rowling, throughout history, have simply channeled the great themes of scripture. I sometimes wonder if God has gifted them with genius because it gives Him glory to have unbelieving authors imaginatively channel the great themes of the gospel.
3. ETCA starts school next week. Wow! TISD begins in two weeks. With sports starting the first Monday in August, and teacher seminars and workdays beginning as well, it seems now that summer has shrunk to basically a six-week period—mid-June through August 1.
4. I saw previews for THE HELP. I think HARRY POTTER is the only movie I’ve seen in the theater this year; I don’t go often. However, I would like to see THE HELP.
5. Is it my imagination, or is the DRAGON SPEECH DICTATION app on the iPhone becoming more accurate?