That’s the word the neurologist used as he crouched down beside my hospital bed. “This is craziness.” He was speaking partly to me, but mostly, I think, to the six other people who had filed into my room behind him: interns, residents, and my nurse.


It’s a word one would more readily associate with the absurdities of an internet company’s automated help lines (ahem, Comcast) or the antics of World Cup soccer fans than with health care, but there it was anyway: craziness.

All things considered, I suppose it was better to hear the minor stroke I had just suffered at the ripe old age of 33 characterized as “crazy” than the alternative. To hear him say, “This is just what we would have expected” would have been depressing in an entirely different way.

The doctor, enlarging on his previous theme, continued: “This was just bad luck.” I suppressed the urge to quote Dante to him (“Luck was the first of God’s creatures”—in my experience, practitioners of the hard sciences tend to have little patience with aficionados of the softer ones).

After 36 hours of observation and a slew of tests that would have made a torturer of the 15th-century Inquisition feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the practitioners of 21st-century medicine reached this conclusion: there was, it seems, no observable reason for my stroke.

There may well be no observable reason for what happened; there may, for that matter, be no unobservable reason for it, either (remember Dante?). But as I reflect on this temporary weakness God thrust me into, I think otherwise. Here are three lessons I’ve taken away from my stroke.

My Life Is Remarkably Fragile

Here’s the song that’s been going through my head since all this happened. It’s the third verse of Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise by Walter Chalmers Smith:

To all life Thou givest—to both great and small;

in all life Thou livest: the true Life of all.

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,

and whither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.

In comparison to the one “who alone possesses immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16) and who is the very ground of existence itself (Acts 17:28), my life is remarkably transitory. This is why Isaiah confessed, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field . . . the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6, 8).

It is surprisingly easy to forget this reality. We tend to think that we will be able to continue life as we know it for the foreseeable future, and really, what future is worth considering that is not foreseeable? But that’s the problem. Our foresight is seriously flawed. The day will come when our health will fail. The day will come when we will die. I will not live forever. My time on this earth is short. I neglect this fact to my peril. So God, in his mercy, has reminded me of it. My life is fragile and entirely in his hands.

My Life Is Entirely Unassailable

The flip-side of this coin is true too. Since my life is entirely in God’s hands, it is not only remarkably fragile, but also entirely unassailable. Although statistically a person who has suffered one stroke is at higher risk for suffering a second one, it would be a mistake for me to think of my life as a ticking time bomb. There is simply no sense in which my life is more fragile now than it was before.

In the doctoral seminar I was attending when this trouble began, we had been discussing spiritual warfare. The enemy hates the advance of the gospel and will use all means at his disposal to stop it. Sometimes, these means include physical attacks. I hadn’t thought, at the time, that I was about to become Exhibit A. But here’s the thing: while it is eminently possible that my stroke was an attack from Satan, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that Satan is powerless apart from the permission of God. He cannot attack Job without God’s permission (see Job 1–2). He cannot attack Peter without God’s permission (see Luke 22:31). The enemy may snarl and snap and sometimes even bite, but he does so as a mongrel on a chain.

It may well be that some obdurate valve in my heart will hurl another blood clot projectile that will travel through my arteries and pierce my brain like a bullet. It could happen. But if it does, it will do so only with the permission of my loving Father, whose plan I trust and whose prerogative I humbly recognize.

My Life Is Not Even a Little Bit My Own

My life does not belong to me—not even a little bit. Our indignation at unexpected trials only proves that we think our lives are just that—ours. But that’s not right, is it? My recent experience has reminded me that my life belongs to God. My heart is his. My brain is his.

On the one hand, this reality leads me to take a careful look at how I’m stewarding these things that God has put into my charge for the time being. Can I be a better steward of my life and health? Yes. Can I be a better steward of my time? Sure.

But suppose I become the most faithful steward alive, and then I have another stroke. Maybe a fatal one this time. Will I then have a right to be displeased? “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20 KJV). No, my life is not my own. I owe it doubly to God—first by right of creation, second by right of redemption. So that in all things, I must say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).