Fear or faith? A Testimony from Nancy Riley

Scott & Nancy Riley

There are years that mark special occasions and life changing decisions: graduating from high school, getting married, the birth of a child, job change, retirement… and then there are years that like Thomas Paine put it, “that try men’s souls.” For me, this has been one of those epic, earth shaking years; a year that the Lord would use to change me in big ways, a year that I would learn to trust Him like never before, a year of learning intimately about fear and faith.

Last March, Scott and I sat in the doctor’s office with our 24 year old son, Steven and heard the diagnosis Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was a moment worthy of despair, anger, fear and even terror. As sobering as this news was, I was overwhelmed by the love, peace, joy and hope I felt; an impossible, outrageous, miraculous hope. You see, fear and faith is the same thing, the belief that something that has not happened is going to happen. The difference is where we place our confident belief of the results – good or bad.

This was a lesson the Lord taught me seven years ago. During that time I faced a different kind of fear, almost losing our family business. One night, after barely holding it together as a leader during a youth group meeting, parked in my driveway and sank into despair; I lost all hope and sobbed as I sat in my car. In the midst of that raging storm of financial crisis the Lord brought me to the story of Peter, who walked on water towards Jesus. Gotta love Peter’s childlike passion. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink. In that story, I began to learn to focus on God to walk in faith.

So going back to fear and faith being the same thing, it’s our focus that’s different. I’ve learned recently that there is a part of our brain, the reticular activating system, that tells us what to pay attention to and what not to. I’m sure something like this has happened to you, you buy a car and suddenly there are hundreds more of the same car being driven around. Or, I remember when I was pregnant how many more pregnant women I saw. This is by design. This part of our brain uses what we focus on most to increase that which we focus on. In other words, God actually created us for increase!

Throughout this year of Steven’s surgeries, PET Scans, countless chemotherapy treatments and some setbacks, there have been many moments of choosing what to focus on. This fall, when chemo stopped working, Steven needed image guided radiation as his next treatment and the insurance company denied coverage. Fear – faith. We all started to pray… the doctor wrote a 3-page letter, I called the CT insurance advocate for help, days went by, we continued to pray and we chose to believe God would do something. Three hours before Steven was scheduled to start treatment, still uncertain if it would happen, I got a call from the doctor’s office to tell us the hospital administrator authorized treatment to start without insurance coverage and without financial obligation to us. Wow, what a God moment – our good, good Father moved a hospital in faith. The next morning the insurance was approved.

It has been incredible to me the amount of peace, joy, love and hope my family has walked in, most of the time. Steven has had an amazing attitude and we’ve talked about the many times we find ourselves comforting those who have come to comfort us. He too has learned to choose faith and life. It also helps to have a husband/father with a heart healing sense of humor! At first I struggled with the idea that the world might call it denial but I found great freedom of faith when I heard Bill Johnson teach in a sermon that “faith doesn’t deny a problem, it just denies it a place of influence.”

This hasn’t been a walk without fear; fear has a way of sneaking up on you at any time. And often I do find myself holding my breath waiting, like now as we wait for the radiation to continue to work in Steven’s body, until he has a PET Scan and we find out what happens next. Some days are harder than others, but day by day, sometimes moment by moment, I chose faith, I chose to believe in a loving, good, good Father who holds on to us, is not surprised by any of it and has a plan with provision. I also spend a lot of time in worship and a lot of time reading God’s love letter to us. Sometimes, I just keep worshipping for hours, through the tears and fear, until I find God’s presence. From there I can launch my faith, my joy, my hope and my prayers.

So I pray this over you, the same prayer Jesus prayed over his disciples and over us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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