By Shawn R. Jones
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. -Hebrews 2:14-15
My four -year-old daughter flopped over the nurse’s shoulder like a cloth doll. Her plats dangled helplessly towards the floor. I hated seeing her like that, loopy with medication. She tried to point at the small tank, but as she slurred, “Fish…,” her brown arm flopped down. Then her next slur was, “Mom…my.”
“Yes, Mommy’s here, and so is Daddy and Tumbles.” Tumbles was her favorite doll. They suggested she bring her favorite toy with her the day of surgery. The nurse had even given Tumbles some medicine to make her loopy, too. I was too worried to be amused, but the professionals were right; Tumbles was a comfort to my daughter.
“Tell Mommy and Daddy you’ll see them later,” the nurse sang.
This is her job, I thought. She’s used to this, I observed. She carries children to the operating room every day.
My husband and I followed the nurse down the hall as he massaged the back of my neck. When the nurse walked through the double doors and my daughter waved and smiled weakly, I lost feeling in my knees, sank to the floor, and collapsed in my husband’s arms. I wept like I had just buried my daughter because, since the day she was born, I had been afraid she would die. It was my biggest and most debilitating fear.
My daughter was born two months premature, and we had had so many scares since her birth. Our very first scare came when a nurse called us from the neo-care unit. She told us our daughter may not make it through the night because a few babies on the unit had died from a highly contagious respiratory infection. That phone call disturbed me for years. Many nights thereafter, I tormented myself with the thought, she may not make it through the night. Instead of internalizing the nurse’s message, I should have quoted some scripture or at least said something positive back to her. The Bible says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). I don’t think I was familiar with that verse at the time.
I am sure you can imagine how grateful I was when I found out my daughter had made it through the night. I praised God for it all day long. Yet, I had subconsciously stored the nurse’s message in my mind, so when my baby came home from the hospital on a heart monitor, I replayed the nurse’s voice every time I put my daughter down to sleep. Every time the heart monitor went off, I thought, she may not make it through the night. Most times it was gas, a cough, or a loose lead, but with each false alarm I became more nervous. My mind was as jittery as my body, and most nights I stayed awake because I was afraid she would die in her sleep.
I lived with that fear for years, until I realized I could not fully enjoy anything with her hypothetical death prowling around. For example, whenever my husband and I would be on a vacation, having a wonderful time, I would catch myself and think, I should be worried about my daughter, and then of course, I would worry even though she was safe at my mother’s house. If my daughter even cleared her throat or coughed while I was on the phone with my mother, I would panic and ask my mother if she were okay. As the years passed, my fear of her dying did not wane. After pneumonia and a second surgery, I became even more fearful. Instead of realizing she was strong, resilient, and purposeful, I sometimes visualized her in a casket. That was when I realized my fear had turned into something much more debilitating than I could have ever imagined it could be.
My fear was affecting me and each member of my family. Even though I did not verbally express my feelings to my daughter and son, they could sense my gloom. My husband, on the other hand, had the difficult job of trying to get me back to the fun-loving free-spirited woman he could only reminisce about– the wife who used to laugh and smile most of the day. I tried to explain to him that I could never again be that woman, full of love, full of life. I tried desperately to explain to him that harsh circumstances had changed all that. While I was giving multiple explanations for this new creature I had become, and while I tried to convince him that the old one was gone and would never return, I secretly missed her, too.
I couldn’t reach her because I didn’t know how to get help. I tried to conquer my fears on my own because Satan had convinced me that I was alone. See, Satan will make you think you have to handle all your problems single-handedly. Even when you are in a room full of loving family and friends, he will make you feel like you are all by yourself. He will have you thinking that no one, including God, cares or understands what you’re going through. At the very moment you feel that way, beware. Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), so he will certainly come for you (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan came for me, and I believed every negative thought he put in my mind. I thought, no one cares about my daughter as much as I do. My best friend doesn’t because she’s preoccupied with her own life. My husband doesn’t because he’s not a mother. My mother doesn’t because she has her own children to worry about, and God doesn’t because He sacrificed His own son, so death apparently isn’t that big of a deal to Him.
Yes, those were my thoughts, and for a long time I didn’t really want to talk to God about it because I didn’t want to talk to someone whose thoughts were higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). I wanted someone right there, feeling what I felt and thinking want I thought. I felt that way for a long time until I realized it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I had to try something different, so I decided to tell Satan the same thing Jesus told him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ (Matthew 4:10). With that, I stopped serving my fear. I no longer gave it what it needed to survive. Instead I gave myself what I needed to survive-God’s living word.
I prayed often and read my bible consistently. I talked to Jesus, and He taught me how to encourage myself just as much as I had discouraged myself in the past. I was becoming the woman I used to be, but better because I had learned to seek God in the midst of my adversity.
I spent hours reframing my thoughts by studying my faith more deeply and reading Christian books. Not only did I read more, I began to write and dance more. I started doing more of the things I enjoyed most—things that did not include my family. I know that may sound selfish, but I had to train myself to enjoy life away from my family. I needed to know my life still had meaning without them. We live in a world where people die all the time, children included. We cannot stop living because people die, and we cannot worry ourselves to the grave. Death is not going to change, but our perspective on death must change. We cannot live our lives worried about something Christ has already given us victory over (1 John 5:11).
The multiple times I worried about my daughter when she was sick, she lived. My worrying did not accomplish anything positive. I was not allowing her to enjoy life because I was afraid something horrible would happen to her. I felt like she and I were both walking on a tightrope, she on one end and I at the other. Now that I have overcome that fear, my daughter and I are both free to live.
Apparently, my mind was the only thing walking a tightrope. I spent years consumed by thoughts of tragedies that never happened. Today, my daughter is a wise, healthy and strong twenty year old junior at Princeton University. She has studied abroad while I have remained in the states. She was in Germany during the most deadly E-coli outbreak ever recorded, she drove through the flood waters of Hurricane Irene, helping restore the lives of those affected by the storm, and she climbed up a mountain in Killin, Scotland, where she saw mountain sheep grazing on its summit. Yet, I worry about her less now than I did when she was younger, sleeping a few feet away from me. Thank God I am free from that debilitating fear and have learned to focus on the beauty of life.
Dear Lord, I have already missed so much of life worrying about death. Thank you for giving me peace “which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I am grateful for Your word that has taught me to value the present and not be afraid of anything negative that may happen in the future (Psalm 112:7). I trust you for today and tomorrow, and I am leaving the issues of my heart and mind in Your divine care. Amen.
Related post: http://shawnrjones.com/no-longer-down-the-hall