The Bulletin Article for today and next week are adapted from a chapter of the book “Anchors In Troubled Waters.” This particular chapter is written by Harold Hazelip.
“The earth stood still the day my doctor told me I had cancer. I remember the walls in my hospital room were a sickly pink. It was an emotional shock to me and my family unlike any other we had experienced. I couldn’t think straight.” This report of a cancer patient tells about the numbness, the confusion, and the loneliness when we fear the worst is going to happen.
Such experiences are rare for most of us. But we have a nagging fear of tragedy. The ringing of a telephone in the wee hours of the night, the perplexed look on a doctor’s face as he studies our chart, a son or daughter being late unnerves us. A voice deep inside us asks, “What if your daughter fails to return from her date, or the cyst is malignant, or the investment you made last year is worthless?” Which is more troubling—experiencing tragedy or fearing that we will?
What if the “worst” happens? The event itself-personal illness, loss of a loved one, international upheaval-is often beyond our control. But how shall we respond? The writer of the New Testament book called Hebrews describes those “who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb.2:15) Is there some way to lift this smothering fear of death that creeps in to spoil our lives?
When bad news comes, the usual immediate response is a penetrating numbness. Our senses are anesthetized. Our minds try to understand what our ears have heard. One person explained, “It’s like being a spectator to your actions.” This numbing of the senses allows us to function and to do the necessary in the face of intense personal pain.
The next step is often a denial of what has happened. “It can’t be,” we say. “I feel fine; you must have the wrong x-rays.” Or we say, “I saw him only yesterday.” One physician reports that her patients have partial deafness when she tries to describe their illnesses. After years of working with seriously ill patients, she assumes that a patient will hear only one-third of what she says about his condition. Denial may help us absorb bad news slowly, but it can cause problems. It may make us delay treatment until the disease is no longer curable.
As we search for a reason for this catastrophe, we may become angry with life. A terrible disease reaches out and says to us, “Tag! You’re it!” We may blame God, family members, or the hospital staff. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah cried out to God, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jer.15:18)
Anger may have a good effect on us if it causes us to take our stand no matter what comes. Once a family was shipwrecked in the mid-Pacific with a little water and not much else. They sighted a cargo ship and began to set off signal flares as the vessel approached.
Amazingly, the crew of the ship failed to respond and sailed into the horizon. The father remembered his feelings: “I surveyed the empty flare cartons bitterly…and something happened to me in that instant that for me changed the whole aspect of our predicament. If these seamen couldn’t rescue us, then we would have to make it on our own…I felt a strength flooding through me, lifting me from the depression to a state of almost cheerful abandon.” Anger can be petty, or it may have a heroic quality that helps us rise above self-pity and depression.

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