My favorite hymn is “Lead, Kindly Light”, because it reminds me how I should react to anxiety. When I sing it, the sentiments are mine. John Henry Newman’s words might have been written by me today, instead of in the nineteenth century.
Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
These lyrics imply that in unfamiliar territory, fear often takes over. I know I am vulnerable and need help.
My husband and I knew our son, Frank, was following up on a potentially serious health issue. He phoned after reviewing lab tests with his doctor. “Are you ready for some bad news,” he asked. I steeled my mind but glibly said, “Lay it on me.” With his next words, the steel melted and began pouring from my eyes. “Hodgkins Lymphoma” is a dark and eerie place. I was completely submerged in a sea of fear, as though someone were holding my head under lapping waves.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
My husband and son were talking, while I was still trying to find a foothold. Once found, I might be able to pull words out of the swirling blackness. “Heavenly Father, help me find the right words of comfort. Maybe then we can take the next steps toward medical treatment.”
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now, Lead Thou me on.
It would have been fine if my prayer had stopped there, but my thoughts raced forward. Will there be surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Wait, did he say stage 3? It had already metastasized. We need an oncologist. NOW! We can get a referral and bring him home for treatment.
What about nausea? What will I cook so he won’t waste away during treatment? His friends can come from New York to visit. His grandmother is highly anxious, and his grandfather has a heart condition. How can we break the news to them?
What are recovery rates for Hodgkins? I have to learn more. Oh, no, the library is closed. And we took him to see “Wit” on Broadway. The heroine suffered terribly but still didn’t make it. Those scenes will just create more fear for him. The details my mind wrestled with seemed endless, and I was only five minutes into the diagnosis.
So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still Will lead me on
Oer moor and fen, oe’r crag and torrent till The night is gone.
It was all too overwhelming. Frank didn’t need an hysterical mother. He insisted he needed to stay in his own home, surrounded by core friends who had enriched his life for years. I needed to let go, put him in the hands of the Lord, and accept the more modest occasional role he’d relegated me to.
Over the ensuing months, I fasted several times, praying for the comfort of the Holy Ghost before I would eat again at supper time. Between that and personal and family prayers every day, I learned to let go of the racing thoughts and to steep my soul in faith. Prayer is very practical once we recognize it calls from heaven powers more potent than our own.
In the examining room where Frank and I waited for the results of the treatment hung a print, looking out the window of a home directly onto a vast ocean – no porch, no yard, no boat – only the curved horizon of the endless water. I observed that the doctor’s findings could plunge us either off the deep end or into a sea of endless possibilities. Either way, the months of letting go of breathless anxiety had taken hold. I felt a peace that would remain, no matter what the diagnosis, a peace from God that surpassed all understanding.
And with the morn those angel faces smile.
For Frank the news was the best possible; he was cancer-free. For me the news was equally perfect; Our Father in Heaven is in charge. We need to trust that, no matter which way He leads us, if we will follow in faith, He will bring us to the place we need to be.