I recently heard a great story about Werner Forssmann, a German physicist who led a pretty obscure life.
Well, for a time.
It’s a story of courage and all out craziness. It’s a story that inspires and scares the hell out of me, and at the same time provides a wonderful illustration of someone who was willing to risk his life for the belief he was bent upon.
He had this crazy idea. It was 1929 and he thought one could insert a catheter directly into the heart for all kinds of purposes… administration of drugs, dyes, or measuring blood pressure. However, the common fear of the medical community was that it would kill you. This is a relatively large down-side.
Death generally puts a damper on discovery. But he was convinced. Having spent a lot of his time and career around cadavers, his hypothesis was that it could be done on a live person correctly without ill effect.
But no one would listen.
They were too busy believing what they believed, knowing what they knew, and fearing what they feared.
Werner wanted more. Since no one would give him the green light for this kind of experiment, he convinced a nurse to allow him to perform the experimental procedure on her. She had access to get the supplies necessary, and so it would work best if she were involved. She had accepted, got the supplies, they chose a room and she allowed him to strap her to a table and prepare to administer anesthetic to her arm.
She realized all too late she had been tricked; she looked up to find him performing the procedure on himself.
Like I said, scares the hell out of me.
He had only needed her to get the supplies needed. To her horror she was now strapped down and couldn’t stop him. It was too late to go back anyway… Werner winced through the discomfort and pushed the catheter into his body.
Problem was… one simple error.
They needed to see proof this worked, and there was no machine for Xray in this room, or on this floor. They would have to go down a flight of stairs undetected to get to a room with the machine. So with a frightened nurse and a catheter sticking out of his body, unsure of how far he had gotten it inside, he proceeded down to the Xray department.
Upon looking at the Xray, they realized it was not quite fully into his heart and with a little more of a push, he was able to reach his right atrium. And fortune smiled upon him… he was alive.
Life. Life is good.
Eventually they ran into a colleague, who was so overwhelmed by what he was witnessing, that he tried to grab the catheter and yank it from Forssmann’s arm. To which Forssmann had to push him back and away and show him the Xray. Proof.
This would change everything.
But not really.
To most, we would cue the confetti flying, the horns blaring and the phone calls rolling in. But his career never really took off. He didn’t experience the heroic accolades any of us would expect. He was in time fired from the hospital, joined the Nazi party, was captured and entered a US POW camp, and when released, worked as a lumberjack. Eventually upon his return to medicine, he left cardiology for urology.
It seemed obscurity had found him.
Or maybe it had never really left.
One night Werner was at the bar having a drink and the bar’s phone rang. His wife was calling, saying some people had been calling and it seemed important. They had odd accents. Werner ignored it and went back to drinking. Upon arriving home later, he heard the same thing… some men had called, odd accents, and it seemed important. Werner went to bed.
The next morning, Werner Forssmann got up and went to work as usual to discover that indeed some important people had been calling with important news: he, along with a couple of others had won the Nobel Prize in Physiology. His papers had been read while he was imprisoned, and work had begun to expand it. His work had helped open up the trail to groundbreaking advances in medicine. Advances that these days affect so many of us or our loved ones.
Because he was bent on what he believed.
And so here is my question.
How are you affected and influenced by what you believe? Does it drive you? Does it move you and shake you? Does it terrify and exhilarate, frighten and excite you?
Are you bent upon something… something so world – altering that you are willing to bank your own life upon it, to wield it upon yourself for all your days because you so strongly believe in what it offers you? Are you so confident in it that you would risk your most important resource – your life – for the betterment of that very thing – your life?
In Matthew 7, Jesus offers up more than a comment, more than a precept, more than a declaration… more accurately a foundation for how to do life as one of His followers. He says, ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you.’
I want to be bent upon this belief. This belief that life awaits me in Him if I pursue, pursue, pursue.
I want to live with the expectation that truth and mercy and grace and freedom and hope and peace and joy and life are all out there waiting for me if I pursue, pursue, pursue them. In asking, in seeking, in knocking… not standing passively, not waiting in obscurity… not spending all of my days believing what I believe, knowing what I know, and fearing what I fear.
I believe that Jesus is saying that we are all called to live expansively this way. It is much larger than a promise, much more than a declaration. Mostly it is how to do real life.
Life. Yes, life is good.