In the emergency room that night, though my physical heart was intermittently failing and reviving, my spiritual heart was raring to go. One day, I expect my ticker to quit ticking altogether. And when my physical heart finally stops completely, I expect my other heart to exult in Jesus, the one who will carry on to completion what he has begun.
Two weeks before Christmas, my heart stopped.
Seated next to me in a congregational meeting, my wife sees me close my eyes and slump. After a few seconds, the old ticker providentially revives “on its own.” It happens four times during that meeting. Maybe I’m just too inactive, I think. Perhaps if I get up and walk around a bit, I can get the juices flowing, and whatever is going on will clear up.
While I’m pacing in the church lobby, one of the elders says he doesn’t think I look quite right. I call my physician, and he recommends that I get to the emergency room for an evaluation. I’m not to drive myself.
In the emergency room, the surgeon hooks me up to a bunch of wires and asks a whole battery of questions to diagnose what’s going on.
“Are there heart problems in your family?”
“Yes, my dad died of a heart attack at 60. So did his dad.”
“But do you feel pain?”
“Did you feel dizzy?”
“Not really. The room wasn’t spinning. I wasn’t nauseous.”
“Did you pass out?”
“Not really. I could still hear, sort of.”
“What do you mean ‘sort of’?”
“I was uninterested in it all, like it was all background noise.”
“Did you break into a sweat?”
The surgeon is puzzled. Maybe he is dealing with a hypochondriac.
While he goes off to another room, it happens — another episode. Before I slump into semi-consciousness, I glance at the monitor: my pulse registers a big giant zero; I have flatlined. A few seconds later, as I revive “on my own,” the surgeon comes running in from the other room, thinking he may have to do CPR or call a Code Blue or something. He exclaims, “Your heart completely stopped for about eight seconds!”
I’m not having a heart attack from plugged arteries, causing oxygen-starved muscles to die in pain. It’s just that my internal cardio-electrical circuitry is taking a break. Which it will do five more times that evening in the hospital. Pacemaker, here we come.
Sitting on the gurney, I say to Vicki, my wife, “I might see Jesus before Christmas.” We pray. We cry. She affirms that she knows where all our important documents are. She adds, “If you go, I’ll be right behind you.” In sudden concern, I ask, “Why? Are you having a medical crisis too?” Then she says something untrue, but very endearing: “I can’t live without you.”
When Your Heart Fails
Since the word heart is in our English Bibles over nine hundred times, the heart is, apparently, a big deal. It’s common knowledge that heart has more than one meaning. It’s bad if your physical heart fails, like mine did. It is worse if your spiritual heart fails. What does spiritual heart failure look like, and what can be done when, as several biblical writers experienced, you sense your spiritual heart at zero?
I know this pain (or gloomy numbness, as the case may be). If our heart has failed, it will do no good to deny it. We may as well admit it. And we should expect heart challenges. It’s an unfortunate and painful aspect of life in a fallen world that sometimes our hearts fail — even if you are more stable than most.