“If only” are two words which haunt me. While they can haunt me in a number of ways, what I’m getting at in this post are the thoughts that come slamming into me, which I can do nothing about. Knowledge sometimes helps, but sometimes knowledge confirms one’s fears. I will share a story.
Years ago a brother asked if I would help him get some outside work done on his house. He needed to get it done by a certain date to avoid a fine. I readily agreed, and we spent some days (as I recall) working on it. They were cloudy, rather overcast days. My friend informed me that he had about one day of work left, but the next day was Sunday, and he didn’t want to work that day. I encouraged him to finish it- that I would help him pull the ox out of the ditch as it were. I was able to talk him into it.
Meanwhile, I had been reading some rather ominous preliminary findings on sunscreen being linked to cancer. Since that time recent studies in my view have rather debunked that, confirming the use of sunscreens (although I try to avoid sunscreens with certain chemicals). I went to a local health store, and found an alternative sunscreen, probably having some natural ingredients in it to neutralize the effect of radicals in the chemicals which I suppose were in most all, if not all the sunscreens during that time. I somehow found out with some more reading online, that at least one chemical in this new sunscreen I had purchased contained “free radicals” which may contribute to skin cancer when one is exposed to the sun. I didn’t reason at the time that the antioxidants (fruit or whatever was in the ingredients) might neutralize, and little did I know what I would face the next day.
Sunday morning I arrived, and for a change the sky was as blue as can be, and the sun was bright. In reaction to what I had read, I had actually thrown out the new sunscreen (evidently I had used some of it already, or had tried it on, so that I couldn’t return it) and had no sunscreen with me. My skin began to turn reddish color not long after being in the sun, unusual for me–I used to tan significantly as a boy, having a darker skin color to begin with, but for years as an adult had largely avoided the sun compared to my days at home as a boy. I asked the people if they had sunscreen and they did not. I wanted to go home to get the old sunscreen we still had, but that would take significant time, at least a half hour, and time was a premium with all we needed to do that day (I was strictly a helper, by the way; my friend did the critical work). And so I reluctantly stayed put, not remembering there was a store nearby where I could have purchased decent sunscreen.
We did finish the project, or at least enough so he knew he wouldn’t be fined. And I was burnt to a crisp, at least for me. I peeled on my lower face and on my arms. I did what I could to care for the burn, but too little too late. I had worn a rather wide brimmed hat, though rather light in color, which did give my upper head and face some protection.
I share this story because I have struggled off and on ever since with regret for not having put on sunscreen. At least some experts believe that the worst form of skin cancer, melanoma, is associated with sunburns, and that the risk for such is further heightened when one has been out of the sun, in other words intermittent (here and there) burns. And in my case, my father had a melanoma on his nose, which further adds to my risk of developing such sometime in life.
I think the devil has used this to fill me over and over again with fear. The fear might last for a day, or a few days, and then dissipates. But sooner or later it returns, in fact I surmise that the enemy has this story right in their files to take out and use on me anytime. I easily use it on myself. It has become and has been a source of weakness for me.
One passage I always want to return to is where Paul writes about taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. However in the context, he is speaking of his proclamation and teaching of the gospel, the kingdom of God come in Jesus, and defending his ministry which was under attack, so that I’m not sure how helpful that is for me. On the other hand, it might be most helpful, because our lives are to be lived under the authority of Christ, and by the gospel. The good news in Jesus is not just something to get us “saved.” That salvation continues and is to be lived in and lived out as a witness to the world.
There are a number of considerations which are good, and of course one needs wisdom. We in Jesus need the Spirit to help us hear from God in God’s written word, when we are troubled by this or that. What I would like is to get rid of such thoughts and attacks completely. To get over it and go on. I think over the years, particularly recent years, I have done better. But my heart can still be filled with fear. Another passage which addresses weakness comes soon after the passage linked above, about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” no less than a “messenger of Satan,” which tormented him. God did not answer Paul’s repeated prayer requests (three times) to remove it, but instead used it for good, to keep Paul humble and dependent all the more on Christ.
Of course I know that God can do whatever God pleases, and that God does answer prayer. We know a good number of things from scripture. I need to learn to rest more in God, in God’s word, and seek to be led by the Spirit in my thinking. As one who is in Christ, and a follower of Christ along with others. And as a witness to the world.
Would any reader have a word of counsel, or a story from your life you would like to share?