Hear my voice, O God, when I complain; protect my life from fear of the enemy.
Psalm 64:1 Book of Common Prayer
A few weeks before my regular checkups, I get a little edgier, a little less patient with people (and patience was never my strong suit anyway). I can feel my heart rate go up; I need to take my blood pressure meds.
I don’t like using battle imagery for cancer, but the psalms are filled with references to literal battles, so I revisit the metaphor as I daily read these ancient hymns. There’s no way around the fact that cancer (if I choose to personify it) is the enemy seeking to destroy me. Not just ultimately, but all along the way to ultimately. When I am in remission, the best way to destroy me is by fear. And there are so many things to fear: my own recurrence, the loss of health among my cancer sisters, the financial repercussions. These debilitating fears all crowd around my soul.
Fear has no power for good. If cancer can make me afraid, then cancer wins, even if I never spend another day in treatment. The fear fences me in with stone, reminding me of the high walls I saw surrounding the homes of the wealthy in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The tops of the walls were fitted with broken bottles to deter any theft or invasion of privacy. Fear keeps my life small and fretful, all sharp, jagged edges.
So it doesn’t surprise me that the psalmist prays for deliverance not only from the enemy, but also from fear of the enemy. Cancer is a formidable foe, but it doesn’t have the last word. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that the last enemy that will be destroyed is death. Death’s power is limited. I do fear my own unbeing in the world I know, which will manage to go on without me. I’m more afraid of the prelude to dying: weakness, pain, loss of appetite.
If I spend my days in fear, though, I lose the joy of the present moment, which in any case is all that I have. I have only this day; I need to spend it more wisely than being afraid of not having another one, being miserly with my time and energy. Common wisdom for writers says spend everything you have on the page, each day, trusting that tomorrow the well will be replenished. It’s good advice for life, too. I want to live each day in fearless wonder at its beauty. Fear is not a creative emotion, so I need to push it to the edges. I visualize fear as a literal box of trash that I move from inside the house to the curb for trash pickup.
I have a friend who says fear is just another name for the devil. When she reads any text with the words devil or Satan, she replaces that name with fear. Jesus confronted fear with the words of Scripture, with the command “Get behind me.” We can teach ourselves to respond the same way.