55. Facing Our Frailty

FACING OUR FRAILITY

It came out of nowhere, completely unexpected, with no warning.  It was a normal part of any medical appointment, but never one that had really been any cause of concern.  For years I had experienced some borderline readings, but nothing to get too excited about.  Years ago my doctor had placed me on simple medication that had brought everything back into the normal range and I had stayed that way for over a decade.  But in the last couple of months, going through some routine follow-up appointments on my long-injured knees and my Type 2 Diabetes,   the numbers were climbing higher.  That caught my doctor’s attention and she asked me to stop by her office a few days later.  All she wanted to do was to check my blood pressure…..no big deal!   At least that’s what I thought!

Because of my high numbers that day, and in two subsequent visits, my doctor asked me to purchase a home blood pressure machine.  She sensed something had changed and wanted to track my readings more often.  I didn’t think much about it at first……after all, I was getting older so it was probably a prudent purchase.  Evidently that was an understatement!

When I got my first reading over 200 I figured I must have done something wrong.  I re-read the instructions, tested myself on the other arm, and sluffed it off as operator error.  However, when I had multiple readings over 200 I began to research some things on the internet. I didn’t like what I found so I called the on-duty Advice Nurse.  At first she assumed I might be doing things wrong too, so she calmly walked me through the procedure over the phone, including 3 minutes of complete silence.  Even though I felt fine, when the reading came back as 204/100 she told me I had to immediately go to the Urgent Care.  That started a process that is still continuing to eliminate the cause of this sudden increase in my blood pressure.

I’m not writing this today to share my own sob story or bore you with my medical history.  I certainly have my ongoing issues and family history to contend with, but overall I actually feel like I’m in pretty decent health.  I have every confidence the doctors will figure out what’s been happening and determine the best course of action to bring things back to normal.

What I do think is worthy of your consideration is how this kind of experience forces us to face our own frailty.  I can assure you, after learning how dangerous a blood pressure reading over 200/100 actually is, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my life and future, as would anyone.   We are fragile beings, exquisitely designed by our creator, with complex systems delicately balanced in this thing we call life.   How it all works is beyond my comprehension…..only God could put something like this together.

Yet, the bodies we live in here on earth are temporary, at best.  They are prone to sickness or injury, and will one day wear out and lead us to the grave.  That’s reality!  Obviously we all know that, but for the most part we try not to focus on how things will end.  After all, if we spent our time worrying about dying we wouldn’t really be living.  Life is to enjoyed, taking in the splendor of the moments, the beauty of nature, the depth of relationships and the joy of accomplishment.  Frail though we may be, there is so much right about the world we live in that it would be a shame to miss it!

Still, there comes a time when we would do well to slow down, take a deep breath, and consider the tentative nature of our physical existence.  That’s not morbid curiosity in death, but rather a wise investment in the purpose for our lives.  Such reminders often come courtesy of a visit to the doctor like the one recently had, the illness or death of a loved one, or the stark images of violence.

It amazes me how many people seem to cruise through life with little or no consideration of what lies beyond it.  They seem to be in a rush to go about their routines, save up money for their future, take their annual vacations, see the blockbuster movie, go to the right school, have the latest cell phone, build better relationships, live in the best neighborhood, go to the popular church, and live life to the fullest.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with any of those things in and of themselves.  They are simply pieces of our lives that, when kept in perspective, help create a sense of well-being and fulfillment.

But life is more than just the things we own or the experiences we have. The meaning of life is not found in objects, accomplishments, encounters, or even relationships with other people.  We were created with a soul that will live eternally, long after our physical bodies have worn out. Therefore, the primary purpose of this life is to prepare ourselves for eternity.  Facing the frailty of our existence here on earth is the first step toward that understanding.

I imagine this sounds a like “pastor speak”, and I guess in ways it is since I’ve been a pastor most of my life. But I’m not talking about any specific doctrine, faith conviction, or historical understanding.  While I have strong beliefs in all of those areas, facing our frailty goes beyond any of those things. It doesn’t matter where you live, what your background has been, how you interpret the world around you, what philosophy or faith system you adhere to, or what you’ve experienced.  Sooner or later we will all come face-to-face with the undeniable fact that we are going to die.

I’ve often wondered what that moment will be like.  Will I die in an accident or be taken by a long, progressive illness?  Will I die at home, in a hospital bed, or in a convalescent center?  Will I be surrounded by my family and friends, or will I die alone?  Will I precede my wife or children?  Who will come to my funeral and how will people remember me? Will I sense I accomplished what I set out to accomplish in life or will I leave some great unfinished projects undone?  I don’t imagine my questions are much different than yours.

I actually think it’s good for us to consider such things if we are going to navigate our lives successfully. We certainly shouldn’t dwell on the fact that the end is coming somewhere down the road, but to avoid the serious contemplation of such an inevitable reality is foolishness. Our bodies are subject to the second law of thermodynamics  –  they will “entropy” or “gradually decline into disorder”.

Personally, I’m coming up on a landmark birthday in less than a month.  It’s a time of life when many people consider their plans for retirement, often hoping to do things they weren’t able to do in their working years. But it’s also normally a time when the doctor visits get more frequent, medications are increased, new limitations are placed on our physical activities, and we become familiar with a whole new vocabulary of medical terms.  I couldn’t help but think about those things after my most recent trip to Urgent Care.  From what I’ve been told, it actually could have been a much different trip.  Yikes!!

Perhaps I’m just overly aware at the moment of how frail I really am…..despite how I actually feel.  But I think it’s more than that!! I believe I’ve once again been given the privilege of taking a higher view of this thing we call life.  A few numbers on a blood pressure machine is all it took to transport me to this reality.  For you it might be something different – a heart attack, an accident, a new diagnosis, a surgery,  or even the Covid-19 pandemic – but sooner or later something will get your attention and remind you that your body is very mortal!  When that happens I’d suggest you take a few moments, like I’ve been forced to do in the past week, and consider once again your immortal soul. God created us to spend eternity with Him and I’m planning to take Him up on that offer!!  See  John 3:16-17 for more details!!