Updated: Aug 3
To all of my fellow worriers...
I LOVE these two words.
Love how two tiny words can pack SO much power . . .
power to penetrate the soul,
AND quiet the storm.
In 2009, God taught me a significant lesson in learning how to "be still."
I was meeting with a neurosurgeon about having a tumor removed . . . from my SPINAL CORD!
Sounds fun, right?!
Trust me, of all the places you DON'T want a surgeon poking around, your SPINAL CORD is one of them. [Shivvvveeeeerrrrr]
The convo went something like this . . .
Me: "What are the risks/complications associated with this surgery?"
Surgeon: "You have lots of nerves running through your spinal cord. If the tumor has become entangled with any of those nerves, we might need to sacrifice nerves, in order to remove the tumor."
Me: [Starting to go pale.]
Surgeon: "We won't know for sure what we're dealing with until we get in there. If we do have to sever any nerves, we won't have any way of knowing which nerves we are severing. When you wake up from surgery, we'll just need to see what still wiggles and what doesn't."
Me: [White as a ghost.]
Surgeon: "You need to prepare yourself for the possibility of losing the use of your legs, losing control of your bowels, etc . . ."
Me: [Full on hyperventilating.]
Let the panicking commence!
How in the WORLD was I gonna be able to care for my 9-month old, 3-year old, and 6-year old munchkins, if the surgeon had to start snipping nerves?! How do you even BEGIN to prepare yourself for the possibility of never being able to walk again?
Insert our "be still" moment, here?
Umm, not so much. I went from shock to fear to COMPLETELY numb, in about 2 seconds flat.
It was the TENDEREST mercy that I only had to endure about 60 minutes of "prepare yourself" time, before the surgeons wheeled me off to the operating room.
Fortunately, Heavenly Father blessed the hands of those poking surgeons, and they were able to successfully remove the tumor without having to sacrifice any nerves. When I woke up from surgery, my heart was absolutely BURSTING with RELIEF and GRATITUDE. Everything wiggled!
That immense gratitude carried me through a very long and difficult TWO-MONTH recovery. (Spinal cord surgery is no joke.)
Unfortunately, that gratitude would meet it's demise, at the two-month follow-up visit, when those poking surgeons would explain there was a chance the tumor COULD grow back . . .
Surgeons: "If it's fast-growing, it could grow back within a year. If it's slow-growing, it could take 6 years. It MAY not grow back at all. We'll need to keep an eye on it."
For a "normal" person, this news probably wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Every couple of years, bop on into the hospital, get an MRI, and keep an eye on things.
But for a highly-skilled worrier, like myself? It was like receiving a SIX YEAR sentence to constant, unadulterated WORRY.
ANOTHER tumor meant another SURGERY.
ANOTHER surgery meant another s-l-o-o-o-o-w, PAINFUL, TWO-MONTH RECOVERY!!
And what if NEXT TIME I wasn’t so lucky?
What if NEXT TIME the doctors WOULD have to sacrifice a nerve or two?!
What if NEXT TIME, I ended up losing the use of my legs or one of the OTHER life-altering scenarios the doctors said I needed to "prepare myself" for?!?!?!
Hi. My name is Barbara Doyle and I'm a professional worrier.
Any other worriers out there? Hi! Nice to meet you!
The news that this tumor COULD return, was completely unsettling.
How could I POSSIBLY enjoy a calm, PEACEFUL existence over the next SIX years with this EVER-PRESENT piece of UNCERTAINTY dangling before me?!
"Master, the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high! The sky is o’er shadowed with blackness. No shelter or help is nigh. Carest thou not that we perish? How canst thou lie asleep When each moment so madly is threat’ning A grave in the angry deep?"
("Master, the Tempest is Raging", Mary Ann Baker, 1831–1921)
The storms of uncertainty were DEFINITELY raging and I reached a point where WORRY began to take center stage.
It consumed my thoughts.
The UNKNOWN became TOO unbearable . . .
so I did what any other hypochondriacal Latter-day Saint girl would do. I grabbed my husband and asked him for a Priesthood blessing.
("Asked" may be too polite a word. It was more like . . . demanded, haha.)
I knew God knew how this would all shake out, and I-I-I-I wanted to know, too! (No more of this dangling uncertainty stuff. I wanted some answers.) I "calmly" explained to my husband that I needed to know if this tumor was coming back or not.
If it was, I could mentally prepare myself for round-two.
If it wasn’t, I could FINALLY toss all of this worry aside and obtain some much needed PEACE.
(Oh, and I expressed how WONDERFUL it would be to receive the ASSURANCE that this tumor would NOT be coming back, just for good measure.) Have you ever tried to CUSTOM ORDER a priesthood blessing?
You know, the way you would at a drive-through window? . . . "I'll have an order of 'tell me what's going to happen, please,' with a side of 'your tumor won't be coming back' . . . SUPER-SIZED!"
Yeah, that didn't work so well. My husband patiently listened to my panicked requests. He then put his hands on my head and proceeded to give me the SHORTEST priesthood blessing I have EVER received.
I kid you not.
It was direct and to the point. I'm paraphrasing, but it went a little something like this . . .
"STOP worrying about your tumor and START serving others."
Yup. That was it.
I have to admit, at the end of the blessing I felt a little cheated. I had VERY SPECIFICALLY asked for some ANSWERS, for some REASSURANCE. I mean, what kind of drive-through window WAS this?! I ordered a super-sized, double-patty burger, and was handed a bun with NO MEAT!
Well, in spite of being disappointed, I tried to take Heavenly Father's counsel to heart. I tried my best to STOP worrying about ME and START serving OTHERS.
(Heavenly Father was kind enough to help me out in that regard, too. Shortly after receiving that blessing, I was called to serve as my ward's Relief Society president. Coincidence? I think not. Does Heavenly Father have a sense of humor? I think so.)
But here's the part I reflect on, with wondering awe . . . I might have sulked a little when I ordered a double-patty and was handed, what appeared to be, an empty bun. But it turned out, the bun wasn't empty at all. Sandwiched between those two pieces of bread, was a super-sized portion of "BE STILL." Looking back, I'm SO grateful Heavenly Father didn't hand me exactly what I ordered that day. He COULD have calmed the storm by assuring me the tumor would not grow back (because it never did). But in His infinite wisdom, He gave me something more powerful, something more lasting . . .
He gave me an opportunity to learn how to BE STILL . . . in the MIDST of the storm, in the FACE of uncertainty.
And he provided me with the TOOL I needed to accomplish it . . . service.
It brought new understanding to the verse:
“Peace I leave with you, MY peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
You see, I wanted Heavenly Father to give me peace the way THE WORLD gives peace. You know, by taking the problem AWAY; by calming the STORM.
But he gave me a more POWERFUL peace. He gave me HIS peace. The kind of peace that enables a heart to be still in the MIDST of the storm, in the FACE of uncertainty. I LOVE this painting by Howard Lyon , , ,
"From Fear to Faith" by Howard Lyon.
I love how the storm is STILL raging on the outskirts of the painting, but the Savior is there, cutting a peaceful path THROUGH the storm. I love the depiction of the man in the back of the boat. I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and assume he's a fellow worrier, haha.
Fixated on the looming waves and encroaching water, he's missing out on the peace and calm that COULD be His, if he would just put his bucket down and face the Savior. If he would just TRUST the Savior . . . That empty bun taught me many lessons, one of the most important being:
Sometimes, when the Savior utters those two powerful words, "be still," He's not speaking to the waves. Sometimes, He's speaking to the worrier in the back of the boat, And if that worrier would just muster the courage and the faith to put down their bucket and be still, they'd lift their eyes and see they’re not sailing alone.
The Savior is right there, facing the storm with them, carving a pathway of peace.
UNCERTAINTY melts away when we recognize that HE is there. HE is in control. And HE will not let us sink. We can trust Him.
The winds and the waves shall obey thy will: Peace, be still, peace, be still. Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea Or demons or men or whatever it be, No waters can swallow the ship where lies The Master of ocean and earth and skies. They all shall sweetly obey thy will: Peace, be still; peace, be still. They all shall sweetly obey thy will: Peace, peace, be still.
I also learned that SERVICE was the key to stilling my heart, in the midst of the storm. While I was busy serving, my problem didn’t DISAPPEAR, but it DID fade.
Service bumped my problem from center stage, into the background where it belonged. It was still there, but was no longer running the show.
Panic melted into peace. The FEAR of uncertainty gave way to my TRUST in God. I didn't have to worry anymore about how things would shake out, because I knew either way, Heavenly Father would be right there in the boat with me, to comfort, to calm, to strengthen, and sustain. Either way, He would not let me sink. So the next time you find yourself sailing through a storm, fixated on the looming waves and ferociously scooping water out of your boat, remember who's in the boat with you. Turn around and focus on Him. Because you are not sailing alone.
If all else fails . . .
You know in the movies, when a person is out-of-control panicking? And their loving friend grabs them by the shoulders, shakes them back and forth and cries, "PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER, MAN!"?!?!
Well . . . this is the Latter-day Saint equivalent of that:
“An High Priest of Good Things to Come”, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, October 1999
In the wise words of Ralph Abernathy,
"I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future."
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, be still; peace, be still
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, peace, be still.