One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 139—the one which reminds us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. When my first son was born, I examined him from head to toe; and I was in awe of the miracle of birth and the beauty of the human body.The older and more mature I grew, the more aware I became of the great complexities of the body.Along the way, during the course of my clinical pastoral education and as a hospital board member, I’ve had the opportunity to view various types of surgery and to observe from a rather close perspective the inner workings of some of these marvelous and complex organs of ours.
But in the course of life, there are sometimes breakdowns in these remarkable systems of the body that cause us anxiety, pain, and heartbreak.An occurrence of that type of which we frequently hear is cancer. When the very word is spoken from a doctor in the course of an examination, it’s like a kick in the stomach.
Most who receive that word are often in a state of shock.Even though some symptoms may have been experienced (while at other times there are no obvious symptoms), it is still a very bitter pill to swallow. “I’ve had friends and relatives with cancer, but I didn’t think it was going to happen to me” is a common thought.
As a pastor, numerous congregants and friends have come to me to discuss what they should do next as they considered how they should deal with the diagnosis.In the course of our conversation, tears frequently come with the words, “I’m sorry”.I tell them there’s no need to apologize for the tears.Tears can be a great release for the stored emotions, and tears can be very cleansing and helpful at a time like this.
I have always encouraged the person to talk and express what they are feeling or thinking.This can be very cathartic in and of itself.Different people naturally have a whole host of emotions as they deal with this disease. And of course, the biggest hurdle is usually accepting it emotionally.
There are a variety of ways through which people approach a diagnosis of cancer.Some are immediately angry and wonder why God allowed this to happen to them. Others come with a positive attitude and are ready to get on with the treatment as soon as possible and feel hopeful for a good outcome.Still others say, what will be will be and are accepting of any outcome.Whatever we may be thinking or feeling at a time like this, we can be sure that God cares and accepts those innermost feelings and longings of the heart.
I often tell people that there are four important things that can help in a time of a difficult diagnosis.If you have excellent medical care, support from family and friends, a strong faith, and a good sense of humor, this will carry you a long way in getting through the illness. I would hope that most people could say they have at least three out of four of these.
When receiving a diagnosis of cancer, it is helpful to know that we may be knocked down a bit but not knocked out.The Apostle Paul has some wonderful words on this subject in the fourth chapter of II Corinthians.He says, “We may be afflicted in every way but not crushed, struck down but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken”.The Apostle is suggesting we never give up hope.Life is tough, to be sure, but not hopeless.
Through any battle with cancer, prayer is important.Prayer, in fact, is one of the greatest resources available to us.In matters such as this, it is very difficult to know the will of God; and if we reach a point where it seems healing of the body is not possible, then we pray for a healing of the soul and ask for the gift of an inner peace so there may be an acceptance of the road ahead.
“Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer” reads a line from a familiar hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”, reflecting a common human experience with God.Sometimes we just don’t feel that God is near, and our prayers are going nowhere.We struggle, doubt, rebel, and sense no answer to our prayers.While we are continually asked to pray without ceasing, scripture confirms our own experience that we do not always receive what we ask.However, in such moments, we can be sure that the God, who made us, is the God who loves us and cares for us even at times when we may not realize it—God is with us even in the most difficult of times.And through it all, hope based on a faith in God that our forebears through the centuries have found to be dependable can also become a part of our own outlook on life.
I once read somewhere something that is always good to remember.
it cannot shatter hope,
it can’t corrode faith
it can’t eat away peace,
it can’t destroy confidence
it cannot kill friendship
it can’t shut out memories
it cannot silence courage
it cannot invade the soul
it can’t reduce eternal life
it cannot quench the spirit
and finally, it cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.
May the God of grace give hope and peace to all of those and their families who struggle through the difficulty of a cancer diagnosis.
Rev. Jeff Aiken