I woke up groggy and disoriented in a bed that was not my own. I looked around and realised I was in a humid hospital ward.
Beside me, an old man was wheezing violently, hands gripping onto the metal sides of the bed. The lights were spinning wildly above me.
My father was beside me, looking grim.
I tried to recollect what had happened; it came back in irregular patches.
I was 18 at the time. I’d been fasting to lower my body fat percentage for competition when I collapsed during training. I could picture my team members looming over me, some of them holding me. A car came. I saw blurry faces and lights and my father tearing up as he carried me into the car.
My warped training ethic had translated to my life: Never rest till you become the best.
I’d been training for more than 6 hours every day for 8 months. I’d go to school from 8am to 3pm, then rush off for floorball and high-jump training, all while juggling a part-time job. On top of that, it was my A-level year.
I slept for about 3 or 4 hours a day, only after I was done with school, training, work and exam revision.
But I didn’t have any issues with this daily routine, since I didn’t feel like my grades were affected by the hectic mess, having consistently topped my cohort in General Paper and Linguistics.
In my prayers, I thanked God for the strength He had given me and the endurance to push through the daily grind. However, my heart was corrupted by the illusion of “success”.
I was proud that I could achieve so much and push myself beyond my comfort zone. My warped training ethic had translated to my life: Never rest till you become the best.
The truth was that training was my refuge from my accumulating stress and emotions. I refused to face all of this for fear that it would slow me down in my pursuit of excellence and success. So I’d numb myself by working myself to the bone, despite the concern expressed by my teammates, friends and family.
Somehow, despite my less-than-ideal hectic lifestyle, I never thought that my body would eventually fail me.
Until I found myself in that ward, where I stayed for 5 days. For those 5 days, I felt like a complete failure.
I had justified my lifestyle by thinking that I was just giving God my best, by pushing myself in sports and in everything that I did.
What did I do wrong?
I felt like I had disappointed God, and everyone around me. Most of all, I felt I’d let myself down.
Nurses would come by to make sure I finished my food. Doctors would come by to administer checks and to do heart scans via ECG. I couldn’t even walk a few steps without a nurse or someone coming up to me, chastising me. “You shouldn’t be moving around like this. What if you fall down?”
Believe it or not, the main thought going through my head was: The competition is in a month. I’m losing a few days of training. And I’m being treated like someone who’s handicapped.
It infuriated me.
I was doing so much for You, God. Why are you doing this to me? Why didn’t you sustain me till the end?
I was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, Long QT syndrome. The doctor explained that I had collapsed during training because my heart had stopped beating at that moment.
It also meant that I could no longer participate in all competitive sports or anything that would raise my heart rate above 130.
To put that in perspective, it meant I couldn’t even get angry or climb the stairs.
It also means that I can die anytime. Many athletes with this syndrome have suffered devastating effects, including that of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Many have died in their sleep.
I kept rereading the diagnosis letter, trying to convince myself that there must be a typo. I was a perfectly healthy person, with a meticulously crafted diet to keep my body fat percentage within competitive range.
How can this be?
I selfishly kept the diagnosis to myself, crying myself to sleep. My parents didn’t know about the diagnosis – I told them and my friends that I’d collapsed from over-exhaustion, that I would be fine after some rest.
The floorball team almost got disbanded because of me – my dad was furious at the coach and at the school. I had to call my coaches to apologise and tell them that I could not continue with training, and to quit all competitions.
I also had to wear a heart-rate monitor 24/7, and I was sent to receive psychological rehabilitation therapy. I hated every moment of it. I refused to accept the fact that I was a patient in need of help. I wasn’t a patient.
School went on as usual, while I put on a façade of having my act together.
It didn’t take God long to reveal to me that I wasn’t worshipping Him. I was worshipping myself and my desires, and distorting them to somehow “fit” into God’s purpose for me.
I knew He wasn’t going to just leave me hanging, but I was too ashamed of myself to even bring myself to His feet to pray. Despite being broken down and my helplessness, my pride was still stopping me from surrendering everything to Jesus.
But eventually – seeing how hard my parents worked for the family and how I was loved, even if I didn’t believe it – I was moved to pray again.
As I prayed, He reminded me of my numerous suicide attempts a few years ago; He told me His heart had been breaking over my desire to end my life.
I saw how He has been there for me throughout this entire process, while I have been blinded by my own desires and ambitions. I saw how He had been urging me to come back to Him, to receive rest and life abundant in Jesus.
I broke down.
He directed me to this passage in the Bible, where King Hezekiah’s life is extended by the grace of God despite being critically ill.
In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'” Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:1-3)
At first, this confused me. How was his prayer godly? If anything, I saw how self-centred that prayer was. How can anyone boast before God of their loyal heart? What kind of prayer is that?
Then it hit me: Hezekiah’s sickness was only a part, an expression of a deeper problem. It was not just his sickness that worried Hezekiah and drove him to prayer.
At a deeper level, he was worried about what this sickness said about the faithfulness and the reliability of God and his promises.
Hezekiah was a man who knew the Bible and its promises intimately; his mind and heart were filled with the Scriptures. He knew that when the Lord had set Israel apart to be a showcase for his redeeming work among the nations, God had made a promise to Israel – a promise expressed, for example, in Deuteronomy 4:39-40.
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.
But I wasn’t like Hezekiah at all. In fact, I was angry at God because I didn’t know His promises for me.
How can it be that despite everything, God would still want to pour out grace over my life?
2 Kings 20:4-6 convicted me.
And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.”
I knelt by my bed, tears streaming down my face. I told God: How can it be that despite everything I’ve thought and said of You, that You still want to pour out grace over my life?
It was 7 months till the next cardiologist appointment; I was convicted to feed on His word and to rest in Him until then. Daily prayer and meditation of His word was life-changing.
I constantly desired to read the Bible and to draw near to Him. It brought me to a place of inner peace and complete contentment, joy beyond words and a deepening love for Jesus.
On the day of the appointment, the old me would’ve been plagued with pessimism, anxiety and fear. However, I went with peace beyond human understanding.
Regardless of the outcome, I told myself, I am going to praise and thank God.
I went into a room to take an ECG scan, then came out and sat with the cardiologist.
The old me would’ve been plagued with pessimism, anxiety and fear as I awaited my diagnosis.
She squinted her eyes at the ECG and looked at me. “How can 9 ECGs (electrocardiograms) make such a mistake?”
I looked up. She looked at me and smiled. “I’m sorry to say that you do not have Long QT syndrome. It was a wrong diagnosis. I don’t know how that happened, but there’s nothing else for now. You can go.”
My eyes welled up with joy as tears kept streaming down. My therapist, who was with me, was stunned but relieved.
I say that now I’m on a lifelong internship for God. I get paid by experience – in personal growth and an immensely fruitful learning journey that will extend beyond this internship here on earth.
As A W Tozer so eloquently puts it: “We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”
My heart is now at peace. It beats for Him.
- Is God at the centre of your life?
- Are you experiencing peace today?
- What does success look like to you?