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While on rounds one morning, my brother Matt, an oncologist at a research hospital, consulted with a man in his mid-40s who had an inoperable brain tumor. The patient had a prior history with cancer that he had lived with for years, but now was accosted by a brain tumor that eventually would take his life.

"I know you need to talk to me about my options," the dying man said, "and I'm willing to undergo the chemo. But I most want to return to the West, watch the sunsets, and enjoy my family with the time that's left." He then talked about his faith in Christ as if my brother needed conversion.

Minutes later, Matt walked a dozen steps to his next patient, a woman in her mid-80s who had just received news of reoccurring, metastatic cancer. "I've never seen so much anxiety in a patient," said Matt. "Her eyes were wild with panic."

Age, of course, does not necessarily correlate with heroism or stoicism at the breaking news of the end of your story. I'd like to think that the older I get, though, the deeper I am becoming spiritually—i.e., that I am growing more like Christ. The middle-aged patient seemed to possess a reality of faith beyond intellectual assent to its truths and a couple decades of church and Bible study. I wonder what my level of anxiety—and faith in the goodness of God—would be on the drive home after a visit with my oncologist. It's sobering enough to remember that every year, as poet W. S. Merwin once observed, I pass unaware the anniversary of my death.

Have I made any real spiritual progress over the past 30 years of faith?

For many, the blossoming of faith coincides with their teens or 20s. It's the phase of life when everything is fresh and full of my potential to transform the world for Christ. ...

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December 2010

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