By Mary John Dye
“Don’t let this scare you,” my doctor said. “But I am referring you to an oncologist at the Levine Cancer Center.”
Her tone did not sound alarmed. Then, again, she was delivering the news, not receiving the news.
With all due respect to those in the medical profession, when a doctor says that you have cancer, there is an inevitable fear component.
Reassuring words like “superficial,” “self-contained,” and “low-grade” do not change that core reality: I have cancer. My doctor’s calm tone of voice did not change the startling content of her words.
Being a person of faith is not an inoculation against feelings of fear and being a pastor doesn’t stop natural human feelings. In truth, initially, being a pastor can intensify apprehensions.
Those of us who are pastors are privileged to hold the hands of others in their courageous battles. As we pray by the bedside, we see the ravages of disease. We have a front-row seat to the vulnerability of life. We see how quickly lives can be turned upside down. We have seen too much suffering. Human susceptibility to disease and accidents and sin is a constant, vivid component of our work.
We live very close to the fragility of life.
Starting a conversation with, “Don’t let this scare you” kick-starts all kinds of emotions for a pastor.
I believe – and I tell my people – that it is a healthy thing to have initial fear, anxiety or despair at the announcement of bad news. There would be serious disconnect with emotional reality if people shrugged off bad news with a “ho-hum” or “no problem” response at the outset.
Faith is not immunity from fear. Faith is the rich, dependable, larger-than-life foundation through fear to peace. “Courage” as the popular bumper-sticker slogan says, “is fear that has said its prayers.”
In a world where we are inundated by fear, faith offers the unique, powerful, transforming difference. The news doesn’t scare me anymore.
Mary John Dye is senior pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius. She has been a pastor for 26 years. Mt. Zion is at 19600 Zion Ave.