It started as an ordinary Sunday. Jim went for his early morning run as the sun rose. Bringing the Sunday papers into the house, he glanced at the headline and chuckled at the predictable soft news on the weekend. Jim started the coffee and made out the collection envelope for church. Then he bounded up the stairs to the bathroom. He turned on the hot water. It felt soothing. He applied his favorite shaving cream and reached for his razor. As the sharp blade coursed down the right side of his face, he noticed a lump in his neck, the size of an acorn, soft and nontender. It must have developed quickly, because he had not felt it the day before. He was devastated.

Jim had been treated for lymphoma two years ago. He experienced the discomfort of tedious testing and endless blood tests as well as the harsh toxicities of chemotherapy. His disease, though particulary aggressive, responded completely to six cycles of treatment. He was cautioned he might not get a second chance with additional treatment if his disease recurred because of expected resistance to therapy of his fast-growing cancer. Every day he feared finding a new node.

Like Jim, we do not know what the next day will bring. We hope each new day will be a continuation of life as we know it and we will be in control of our destiny. But what may be lurking? A car accident if somone fails to stop as we enter the intersection at the top of our street? The unexpected phone call with the grim news of a father’s death? Financial downturn with the loss of a job? A life-threatening or debilitating illness?

Our seemingly infinite mind can divorce itself from the frailities of our bodies until illness or the outside world forces us to realize we are not in control of what will happen each day. As we are advised in Scripture, “Now listen you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14).

What would we do if we knew what would happen? One character in the award-winning Broadway play “August: Osage County,” reflecting on the developing miseries of personal and family problems in the drama, exclaimed, “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.”

Where can we turn to gain comfort to face the future? In the book of James there is an answer: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it’s the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that”‘ (James 4:15). Understanding that God is in control allows us to get out of bed each day and face the day no matter the future. Although this does not mean nothing bad will happen, we can be secure we are living according to His plan and under His control. This knowledge comforted the author James in the Bible as he extolled the patience and perseverance of the Old Testament character Job in the face of his incredible suffering. The story of Job reminds us to have patience in times of suffering and know that God will provide what we need to get through it. As James proclaimed, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). Paul, another biblical author, also reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Jim finished shaving and wiped his face. He stepped into the shower, turned on the water, and felt his neck again. The enlarged node was still there. He finished showering with a heavy heart. After drying himself off, he wrapped the towel around his waist, sat down, and murmured a prayer. Taking a deep breath, Jim stood up and walked into the bedroom to tell his wife.

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, writer, playwright and director, and consultant to the Department Of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.