Monday, September 10, 2012

Faith vs Cancer


What I’m about to say might sound like blasphemy, yet I believe it’s true. Sometimes we can lose access to our faith. When the twins terror and fear came to live with me after I received the news I had prostate cancer, my faith made little or no difference in helping me manage these intense feelings.  I wondered when, if, and how my faith would manifest itself. A bible verse that came to my mind fueled my sense of discouragement and disappointment with my level of faith. The verse was from Phil 4:6-7:
 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

In the initial few weeks I wished I could feel anxiety.  I went way past anxiety when my Urologist told me I had a “moderately aggressive cancer”. Feeling anxiety would have taken the intensity of my feelings down quite a few notches. In those early weeks, I experienced no comfort, nor any lessening of my terror and fear. I didn’t have a microscopic drop of the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. Instead, I was beside myself, unable to sleep, eat, or think much about anything or anyone else.

I believe every person of faith will experience some degree of suffering, pain, tragedy, illness, betrayal, or some other life event where you painfully discover your faith doesn’t make a difference in how you are coping. Unfortunately, in those moments in time, your faith can make you feel worse, rather than better.

You may begin doubt God’s goodness or His love for you.  I was never disappointed or doubted God. I became profoundly disappointed in my level of spiritual maturity. I thought if I was more spiritual mature, the fruits of my faith would be evidenced at the beginning of this journey.

How and what you think about God in a challenging or painful life crisis will determine whether you continue on in your faith or whether you turn your on both your faith & God. Decades ago as a Medial Social Worker I met a terminally woman. As I listened to her life story, she told me she was convinced that God sent her a terminal illness as punishment for her sins. This belief added another layer to her suffering. I wondered if what she said was true, and if other people held this belief. So whenever I was called in to speak with a terminally ill patient, I make it a point to ask if they believed their illness was result of God punishing them for a past sin. I was very surprised how many terminally ill people held that belief.

In that season of my life, I didn’t believe God existed. After hearing many people tell me about a God who sends painful terminal illness as a punishment for sin, I was glad I didn’t know or worship that God. I knew I wouldn't last a single day with a God who punishes sinful people with a terminal illness. If that’s who God was, I wanted to stay as far from away from Him as possible. Years later, no one was more surprised than I, when I came to belief that Jesus was who He said he was.

Many decades later, after I received the news I had a moderately aggressive cancer, I was painfully aware that I lacked both God’s comfort, and His peace. It appeared my prayers didn’t matter or change the way I felt. I wondered if, how, and when I’d hear from God in a way that made a difference. Since I’d walked with Jesus for more than 30 years, I expected more. I was terribly disappointed in myself and with my level of spiritually maturity. For a time, this added to my suffering. The gift in this season, was the compassion I have for anyone struggling with their faith in a time of crisis.

Over the course of time, I was pleasantly surprised the way in which our prayers were answered. I have no idea how Brenda & I came across two songs which brought us a great deal of encouragement and comfort. The first was a song by Michael W. Smith. It wasn’t only the song that struck me, it was what he said prior to singing that caught my attention. If you’d like to hear the song, stop reading, and use this link:

Two verses from this song became a life raft to me. I’d listen to this song multiple times and sing it over and over. “Hold on, help is on the way”, or “stay strong help is on the way”. These verses changed the focus of my attention. It helped to rise above my circumstances and wait expectantly for the God of this universe to make His presence known and send us meaningful and powerful help. Hearing the song enabled me to wait expectantly because I was certain help was on the way.

In the very same week, Brenda found a song by Laura Story titled “Blessings” Once again a song touched both of us. This was not a coincidence. Our first experience with God’s comfort came to both of us through songs we’d never heard before. If you’ve never heard Laura Story’s song Blessings, take time to listen now:

After listening to this song dozens of times, I hoped it wouldn’t take me “a thousand sleepless nights” to know that God is near. Yet it was good to know I wasn’t alone struggling with my faith. Laura Story wrote an amazing song that could only be written in the furnace of affliction. Her song was a reminder “what if your blessings come through raindrops and healing comes through tears what if trials in this life are your mercies in disguise.”

Help was on the way from so many different, unexpected and amazing places.  First it came through song, then it came from others praying for us, it came from putting together a team to help us fight this disease. Part of that team can from on-line support groups where I had access to men further along in the journey. Help came from the amazing ways God brought people into our lives. A devotional written by Charles Spurgeon titled “Beside Still Waters Words of Comfort for The Soul” spoke directly to me. It was as though God Himself wrote this book for my circumstances. Eventually, I experienced God’s peace. While the idea and possibility I might not live enough to walk my daughter Kate down the isle filled me with sadness, I accepted this possibility as a fulfilling God’s will and purpose in my life. It was His right as my Lord and Savior to call me home whenever and however that call would come.

I’m not sure why this is true, but often it’s much easier to see how God was working things out in your life looking back with hindsight as opposed to being aware of this when you are in the middle of a storm. God doesn’t promise us happily ever after endings on this side of heaven. His promise that He will never leave or forsake us is one of many promises we can rely on in the mists of whatever storms come your way.

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