February 4th is International Cancer Day. On the cancer journey negatives can become positives, and priorities re-established. We can still improve our lives in deeper ways. Living well with cancer is not only possible but can be extremely worthwhile.
Tony Snow (1955-2008) was a journalist, political commentator, television news anchor, White House press secretary and syndicated columnist. What he wrote about his cancer is also applicable to other serious diseases:
I dont know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is, a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths began to take shape.
Our maladies define a central feature of our existence. We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out. But, despite this, or because of it, God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We dont know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face to face.
We need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps, your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings, you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.
To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life, and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on the earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many non believing hearts, an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main and faith to live fully, richly, exuberantly, no matter how their days may be numbered. We can open our eyes and hearts.
God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, editable ease, smooth, even trials as far as the eye can see. But God likes to go off road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension and yet dont. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.
The moment you enter the valley of the shadow of death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs and epiphanies.
There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue, for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer and the most we ever could do. We can let love change everything. We get repeated chances to learn that faith is not about us, that we acquired purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us part way there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy.