This past week I had my first (and, I hope, my last) MRI. It wasn’t quite as bad as I had anticipated, but close enough that I am committed to taking better care of my health!
The radiologist was very kind and very thorough in her explanation of what was about to happen. She gave me a form to fill out, with questions that served as a warning of the things to come. One of them was, “Do you suffer from any form of anxiety (e.g. claustrophobia)?” That is replacement vocabulary for, “Are you going to freak out on me?” I answered, “Not that I am aware of.” If I fill that form out again, well, let’s just say that my answer will be less nuanced. I almost did freak out.
I was provided with the customary ear plugs as I was informed that it would be very loud in there. I thought, “Ma’am, you may want to wear some as well.” As I was strapped to the table (that should have been my first hint), I was handed a device that resembled a squeeze pump. The radiologist told me that, if I panicked, I should just squeeze it. A loud alarm would sound, and I would be “rescued.” Those weren’t her precise words, but I got the point.
The time had now arrived to ship me off to the realm of magnetic rays. I quickly put on my eye blinders (strongly advised and provided by my dear wife—whom, at that point, I was not sure I would ever see again), and the table on which I was vulnerably lying moved into what seemed to be the great unknown.
With eyes firmly shut behind the sleeping mask, I could feel the tension rise. There was a moment when I thought, “I can’t do this!” and I considered squeezing my life-saving bell. Thankfully, I didn’t, for at that very moment she informed me that my head was not yet in the tube. Not a good start.
Anyway, twenty-plus minutes later, after several loud noises, rather disturbing vibrations (“Is this thing going to blow up?”), as I took deep breaths, held them and then exhaled in obedience to the not-so-comforting computerised voice, it was finally over. I had managed to keep it together, and though I still needed one more session, certainly it would be all downhill from here. So I thought.
I was quickly hooked up to an IV that contained a dye, and was informed that this final session would last about thirty minutes. “No problem,” I thought, as I was reinserted into the machine. “I’ve got this.” So far, so good. Until—
Until there was complete silence, for what seemed to be an hour. No computerised voice telling me to hold my breath, and no kind and reassuring, “Are you okay?” from the attending radiologist. A myriad of thoughts raced through my mind: What is going on? Was there a power failure? Has my radiologist left the room? Has she gone home? In the words of Pink Floyd, “Is there anybody out there?” Has the hospital been taken over by thugs so that no one can help me? All these, and other, thoughts bombarded me—so I formulated my escape plan. I decided that I would simply scoot myself out of the machine—until I realised that I was strapped in and couldn’t even manoeuvre my arms to get free. I was trapped. “Oh to see the Dawn” became my anthem.
Then I thought, “Perhaps I can shout, ‘Is anyone there?’” But what if I didn’t get a response? Then I would really freak out. Or worse, the radiologist might simply say, “Yes; now act like a man.” My next thought was to squeeze the alarm. Surely, if it was as loud as I was told, someone would come to my rescue. The silence continued to enfold me. And so I did what I should have been doing all along: I reflected on God’s truth—especially on God’s love in the gospel.
I thought about Romans 8:32 and how, if God loved me enough to offer up his own Son for me, then surely he was with me in what seemed to be a terrifying technological tunnel. I thought about Psalm 56:3: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.” I thought about Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon you.” I thought about the reality that the worst thing that could happen to me was also the best thing—namely, death. (I know, I know, but, hey, I was traumatised!)
Eventually, the machine began to sound again, I breathed in and out a couple of times, and the table on which I was laying exited the tunnel. The radiologist asked me how I was and, of course, I said, “I’m fine. No problem at all.” I suppose at that point I should have meditated on, “You shall not lie.”
I don’t know if the MRI will reveal any physical problems, but I am grateful that it did reveal a spiritual problem. The MRI was a means, not merely to find out what is going on beneath my skin, but to reveal a deeper problem: my problem of wanting to be in control—of everything. Can you relate? I am glad that I was helpfully reminded that I need God’s mercies more than I need to be in control.
Being strapped to a table, confined to a small space, completely dependent upon another, placed me in a most vulnerable position. It was all outside of my control. I was at the mercy of the radiologist but, thankfully, I was mainly at the mercy of God. I always am.
Sure, we need to take responsibility for our choices. But ultimately, we are in God’s hands. He, and not we, is in control of outcomes. We are responsible for obedience, he for the results. And I need this reminder—constantly. I need this reminder as a husband, a father, a Christian living in a spiritually hostile world, a church member, and a pastor. I need this reminder in all spheres of my life. As Jeremiah put it so long ago, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22–24). This confident hope, rooted in God’s loving, wise and sovereign control of all things, applies always for the Christian—even in the middle of an MRI.