Two weeks ago I had a heart attack. It was sudden and unexpected. The previous week was a fantastic exercise week. I ran 25 km. So at the age of 35 I discovered that my heart was only receiving 20% of the blood and oxygen it needed.
As I lay in ICU waiting for open-heart surgery I had a lot of thinking time, and the thinking was about the essentials in my life. God, family, friends, calling. It wasn’t an academic kind of thinking. On Tuesday evening I didn’t sleep at all and spent that whole night in deep prayer, thoughts and struggle. Some time before I went to bed one of the nurses took a razor and prepared my body for the next day’s surgery. All my hair was to be shaved – almost all, I will spare you the details. It took the nurse an hour and forty-five minutes to prepare me for the next day’s medical sacrifice.
That night I laid in bed without a hair on my body and I pondered the fact that I was as clean-shaven as a little baby being born. In a sense I was entering some kind of childhood again. The surgery was a kind of passage into a world that would be different than my pre-heart-attack world. If I died it would propel me into that glorious world, if I lived I would be back in the same old world – but in a new way.
That evening I found deep solace in the words of the apostle Paul when he wrote in Philippians 1 that,
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. ”
This passage was a perfect narrative enclosure for my prayers, thoughts and struggles. Like a metaphorical bed it became the place I could toss and turn on during the night. Like Paul, but not because I am Paul, I had a sense that it was not my time yet and that I had a wonderful opportunity to still live for Christ within the soil he placed me on. A kind of living that lives rhythmically within fruitful labor, for progress, joy so that Christ could be glorified. I chose Jesus. More than ever I am deeply convinced of Jesus’ love for me and that I want to follow Him with everything within me.
To live is Christ.
That evening I wrote a poem capturing some of my reflections:
Without body hair
that is how we enter
Our hearts beating rhythmically
today I found my heart broken
and I am shaven
without body hair
how will I enter?
and which world?
to what kind of world will this lead?
To live is Christ, to die is gain –
In Jesus I choose life.