“I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.” The world of a professional acquaintance of mine (I’ll call her R) came crashing down mid-August when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
We were in pretty regular email contact last spring when R helped me in a professional capacity. I happened to email her before school started just as a hi, how are you doing contact. At that very time she had just received a professional opinion of breast cancer and was awaiting the official results of her diagnostic labs. In a few days, she wrote back and said that the cancer had been confirmed. She was understandingly reeling from the news and said she needed time to process it all. I let her know how sorry I was for her troubles.
In God’s providence, I pass by R’s house every day on my way to work. The Lord has often laid it on my heart to pray for her. I don’t know what her religious convictions are, so I have just prayed that God would use this great affliction to impress upon her the brevity of our time on earth and her need to answer one of the universal questions of life, namely, Is this all there is? I asked God to use this crisis in her life to draw her to him.
This week I thought to encourage R by letting her know that I have been praying for her often as I pass her home. I expressed my hope that her treatments have not been too grueling and she is feeling encouraged and sustained by those around her. I closed with “peace” and that’s really all I wrote. Although she knows I teach at a Christian school, she and I have had no conversations of a spiritual nature so I thought it best not to cast pearls.
Her reply has grieved me:
Hi Kim. I’m here at work at the moment, but barely hanging on by my fingernails. I am trying to push it until 3:00. Yesterday was my first day back and I lasted about three hours. Chemo is horrible. I’m one week out from my first chemo, three treatments left to go, each spaced three weeks apart. I have lost 19 pounds. I have to dig very deep.
I am open to having you pray for me whenever you drive by. The only thing I’m extremely not open to is when people suggest that this is God’s will for me. I will not tolerate any of that nonsense. Thank you for checking on me.
I was reminded of an Isaac Watts hymn to which I’ve very recently been introduced: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place” (note: Aweful is different than awful), especially these lines:
…Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
So much is revealed by her reply. Firstly, there seems to be a glaring disconnect to the human condition in her statement, “I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.” Really??? I found that statement shocking since I think of that sort of thing all the time (probably my scale tips too far in the other direction).
You see, I know I live in a world where not only humanity is fallen and under a curse (hopelessly separated from the one, true, holy, living God if it were not for our rescue by said God), but all of creation is victim to this curse as well. True, God has given mankind dominion over his creation – an ability to seek and discover the uses and purposes of the treasures God has scattered throughout his universe, but I also know that this very creation has been “subjected to futility” along with mankind and is in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:19-21). It, like I, await with “eager longing” our freedom from this bondage when Christ returns for his children.
I know that all of creation has experienced this decay from its original glory and is no longer as reliable as it once was. It’s the reason why I don’t eat chocolate with abandon, or rich pasta, or pizza, or boxes of Good & Plenty, or (wait… I digress). It’s what makes me get on the treadmill or pick up light weights periodically; not because I’m one of those endorphin addicts, but because I experience and confirm the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “While quantity [of energy] remains the same (the First Law), the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time.” Beyond a doubt, my matter is gradually deteriorating over time, as is that of my universe. I know that given enough time, the resources I might currently rely upon for health (medicine or supplements, movement, heredity, treatments, etc.) will eventually fail me. One day I will break down completely and die (with further deterioration occurring in the grave).
Beyond shock though, the rest of R’s message just plain makes me sad. It is a window into how those with no hope beyond their own material resources deal with issues of life and death like cancer. Her rejection of God’s sovereignty in her affairs is a rejection of that one thing which is my keel in rough seas and affords me peace in times of trial and suffering. As the hymn writer Annie Flint has put it: “To added afflictions, He addeth His mercy; to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.” In exchange for this, R is left to dig very deep. And what will she find there, I wonder?
She is “open” to my praying for her, but I wonder to what god she assumes I will pray. Her sense of god seems to be a very small god who, if he exists at all, is not in control of his universe. In condescending to allow me to pray for her, she is either allowing me my prayers but believing them to be useless, or she believes that this god’s main role is to help us out when we get into trouble or make us feel better so we can be happy. She will not tolerate any nonsense which hints at this god having a greater purpose for her life than mere well being.
In Sunday School today, I couldn’t help think of R and her darkened understanding as we studied 2 Peter 1:1-4. Peter writes to those in the faith, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v2). Peter knew what I have proven in my life… as I grow in my knowledge and understanding of God, my peace is multiplied. It does not diminish my peace to know God as sovereign over every aspect of my life, it multiplies my peace. This is because I know him to be as He has declared: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6). It is a great peace to me and comfort in times of distress to know as Abraham Kuyper has declared: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
For her own good and before it’s too late, I pray that R will dig very deep and come to the end of herself; that her finite resources exhausted, she will seek and find rest for her soul as only Jesus can give. There have been tougher cases than R’s who have eventually bent their knees to the one, true God, Yahweh. An encouragement to some is a warning to others: One day “every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). May R confess Jesus as Lord before that great and terrible day when the destinies of all will be fixed, even as many are suddenly made aware of their gross error in rejecting this mighty, sovereign God.
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