The first guest post in our Lenten series Following Jesus What Difference is by Lynne M Baab, the author of numerous books. In May her book on friendship as a spiritual practice in the Facebook age will be released from InterVarsity Press, Friending: RealRelationships in a Virtual World. She has also written several books and Bible study guides on spiritual disciplines, including Sabbath Keeping and Fasting, and an array of articles that are posted on her website. She is a Presbyterian minister with a PhD in communication, and she teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
On Valentine’s Day, 1994, I got the flu. Two days later I couldn’t breathe. A long diagnostic process followed. At some point, the lung specialist described to me the possible diagnoses, one of which was fatal. He had put me on a cute little oxygen tank, but my brain still wasn’t getting enough oxygen to think clearly, so I misunderstood him. I thought he said the fatal lung disease was by far the most likely diagnosis.
It was a week before my next appointment with him, so I spent a week thinking I was going to die. I had moments of fear, but my 23 years of following Jesus had given me a level of trust that made me willing to face death if that’s where Jesus was leading me. The freedom from fear, most of that week, was palpable. Truly Jesus did “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”(Hebrews 2:14, 15).
Five years later I had a similar experience. This time it was my liver, which swelled up. Hepatitis. But what kind? The diagnostic process involved a seemingly endless series of blood tests, followed by an extremely unpleasant liver biopsy. This time I didn’t misunderstand the doctor. He said it clearly. The biopsy indicated I had a fatal liver disease, curable only by a transplant, which would not be likely to happen.
So I spent another week thinking I was going to die. Again, the years of following Jesus made a difference. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I could live or die, and God would make that decision. Most of that week, I was able to draw on all the years of experiencing God’s goodness in my life. I was able to trust God and experience Jesus’ peace.
The reprieve came in a letter from a sub-specialist at the university who had looked over my records. The specialist wrote to my own doctor saying that even though the liver cells indicated a fatal disease, I was missing a blood marker that always accompanies it. My hepatitis turned outto be an unusual reaction to a drug I was taking. I went off the drug and slowly got well.
Now I’m walking the death road again. It’s not me this time, but my sister-in-law. It’s not a misunderstanding or a false diagnosis, but inoperable cancer that has completely obstructed her bowel. Her lungs are failing, so she’s gasping for breath just like I did 17 years ago. Because of my husband’s witness, and because of her longing for peace as she dies, she has recently come to know Jesus. She has been following him now for only a few months. And Jesus has given her comforting moments of peace as she faces the end of her life on earth and anticipates the joy of heaven. But it’s not the depth of peace that comes from years of following him. I long to give her that deep peace, and all I can do is pray.
Following Jesus makes a difference in dozens, if not hundreds, of ways. Freedom from fear of death may not be something we need on a daily basis, but when death circles around us, peace from Jesus makes all the difference. Truly in Christ we are freed from the bondage of the fear of death.