Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Being in Control
Paul D. Leichty
from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 3 – August 2014
I am reminded again in the last number of weeks how much I like to be in control of my life, my work, and the various situations in which I find myself. When there are multiple unknown factors, when my work depends heavily on the work of others, when I feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks to accomplish, I am not in control and I start to feel uneasy and anxious.
As Executive Director of a group of healthcare professionals, I am granted some measure of control over the functioning of the organization. As healthcare professionals, we participate in the management and treatment of diseases, granted a certain level of control over the health of our patients and clients. As medical scientists, much of our knowledge of the effectiveness of certain treatments depends on experiments that have certain factors controlled.
Yet, we all need to realize throughout our personal, professional, and even spiritual lives that we are often not in control. We are creatures with limits to our knowledge and abilities, and we work as limited and fallible human beings among others who have abilities and disabilities, strengths and limitations, differences and willfulness like our own.
I write this with the expectation that a week from today, I will be in a hospital room in Indianapolis, recovering from surgery to remove my cancerous prostate. The path from a routine blood draw in February for a PSA test to an appointment with my urologist in March, to a biopsy and diagnosis in May seems to have been a long one. Then, taking until mid-June to make a decision on treatment and hoping to get it over with in July, the surgery couldn’t be scheduled until late August. At each point along the way, there were uncertainties and factors outside of my control.
People have asked whether I am anxious about the cancer and the surgery. After all, it is really my first major health issue and the first time facing major surgery and general anesthesia. I’ve often jokingly replied that I am too busy finishing up all the work I need to do beforehand to be anxious. In saying that, I realize that therein lie the control issues for me.
The people in the healthcare system and my family and friends in healthcare professions have been helpful and informative. Persons who have gone through a similar situation or have researched healthcare and dietary issues have provided me valuable insights into human health in general and my situation in particular. Thus, I made what I felt was the best decision about treatment on the basis of the latest research and statistics. In the midst of a spectrum of advice, I have generally felt in control. However, there have been a number of sources of anxiety, points at which I needed to acknowledge I am not in control.
I thought that making some changes toward a more heart-healthy diet several years ago would also make me less vulnerable to cancer. So when people suggested that I go on active surveillance instead of surgery and make further changes in my diet, I felt uncertain about how to respond. Could I really control the course of the disease through diet? In some cases, I was seeing conflicting information about what foods were best. How could I know for sure? Then there was the social factor and the self-control factor. Could I control my diet even if I did know the answers? Could I do so without becoming a rigid, overbearing, and even a slightly obnoxious “expert”? Relationships are important and I didn’t want to constantly feel torn between a strict dietary regimen and the gracious acceptance of food offered me. I wanted control but not at the expense of relationships with others.
Another issue that pointed out my issues of control was having to wait long periods of time for returned phone calls or emails with answers to my questions. I wanted to plan out the timing of surgery, know as much as possible about recovery time, and make sure all my bases were covered for my three jobs as well as various volunteer positions. Although I sometimes fail to live up to my own standard, I make it a point to try to return any email or phone call within a day (or two at most). Thus, when I was trying to plan out my summer, the temptation to irritation was great when many days and even weeks passed between answers to basic questions. I had to remind myself that these were busy people dealing with many persons with similar needs as mine on a daily basis. I could not control when they could get back in touch with me.
Finally, I wanted to control my workload, to have major projects completed or at least well in hand before my surgery. As I have learned the hard way on numerous occasions, it is precisely when I want to get many things accomplished that many unpredictable circumstances come up on any job, particularly if one is dealing with customers, members, and/or colleagues. Thus, my joke about being too busy to be anxious about my surgery in itself reveals the source of my anxiety. I suppose it also reveals the fact that I have a good degree of confidence in the healthcare team handling my situation. I’ve read about the risks and I realize there will be some sense of loss. I also know that being at a university hospital with the head of the department (and friend of my doctor in Goshen) as the surgeon, presents a strong likelihood of a successful outcome.
I also have a strong support system with my wife at my side, my daughter making a special trip to visit me in the hospital, and other family members and friends around the country who will be praying for me.
But most of all, my control issues are spiritual issues. My life and service belong to Jesus Christ and God is ultimately in control, shaping my life as well as the lives of those around me for God’s own purposes. Thus, while attempting to live a healthy lifestyle, I surrender my health to the Spirit’s control. While wanting to schedule my time most efficiently, I surrender the timing of this surgery to the Creator of time and space. While trying to accomplish what I can, I put my faith in the fact that my feeble efforts are all a part of bringing all creation under the feet of Christ. And in submitting to a procedure prayerfully discerned to be the best plan under the circumstances, I leave the outcome in God’s hands.
Whatever our role is in the healthcare field, we all want to feel in control so that we work for the best outcome possible for the health of patients, clients, and, yes, ourselves. Yet, our Christian faith teaches us that in the final analysis, all of our anxieties can be laid at the feet of Jesus where they belong. It is ultimately in surrendering ourselves as instruments in God’s hands that we accomplish anything of significance in bringing healing, health, and salvation to ourselves, to those we serve directly, and to a broken and hurting world.
About the author
Paul D. Leichty, M.Div. was the first Executive Director of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF), serving from Sept. 2011 through May 2020. Paul has served as a pastor, church musician, computer support person, disabilities advocate, and administrator/organizer of a number of church-related ministries. In addition to responsibilities at MHF, Paul is Executive Director of Congregational Accessibility Network and was formerly Director of User Services at Mennonite.net. He is a member of Agape Fellowship of the Mennonite Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife, Twila Charles Leichty.