Blessings In Disguise
Snow - (Pres. Bush's former secretary)
Blessings arrive in unexpected
packages, in my case, cancer. Those of us with
potentially fatal diseases---and there are millions in
America today---find ourselves in the odd position of
coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's
will. Although it would be the height of presumption to
declare with confidence "What It All Means," Scripture
provides powerful hints and consolations.
The first is that we shouldn't
spend too much time trying to answer the "why"
questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't
someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and
the questions themselves often are designed more to
express our anguish than to solicit an answer.
I don't 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 begin 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 don't 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.
Second, 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
this 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.
Third, we can open our eyes and
hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple,
predictable ease,---smooth, even trails 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 don't. 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.
'You Have Been Called.' Picture
yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has
begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet, a
loved one holds your hand at the side. "It's cancer,"
the healer announces.
The natural reaction is to turn
to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. "Dear
God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler." But
another voice whispers: "You have been called." Your
quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those
you love, closer to the issues that matter, - and has
dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that
occupy our "normal time."
There's another kind of response,
although usually short-lived an inexplicable shudder of
excitement, as if a clarifying moment of calamity has
swept away everything trivial and tiny, and placed
before us the challenge of important questions.
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. Think of Paul,
traipsing through the known world and contemplating
trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain),
shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about
the morrow, but only about the moment.
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.
Finally, we can let love change
everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of
crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He
cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From
the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin
and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.
We get repeated chances to learn
that life is not about us, that we acquire 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. A minister friend of mine
observes that people suffering grave afflictions often
acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept
the burden of two peoples' worries and fears.
'Learning How to Live'. Most of
us have watched friends as they drifted forward into
God's arms, not with resignation, but with peace and
hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die,
but how to live. They have emulated Christ by
transmitting the power and authority of love.
I sat by my best friend's bedside
a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him away. He
kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the
Book of Common Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his
family, many of his old friends, and at least one
priest. Here was a humble and very good guy, someone who
apologized when he winced with pain because he thought
it made his guest uncomfortable. He retained his
equanimity and good humor literally until his last
conscious moment. "I'm going to try to beat [this
cancer]," he told me several months before he died. "But
if I don't, I'll see you on the other side."
His gift was to remind everyone
around him that even though God doesn't promise us
tomorrow, he does promise us eternity,---filled with
life and love we cannot comprehend,---and that one can
in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward
timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.
Through such trials, God bids us
to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold
enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to
submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our
limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that
don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days
to things that do?
When our faith flags, he throws
reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in
our midst. They change things, and those of us who have
been on the receiving end of their petitions and
intercessions know it. It is hard to describe, but there
are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your
neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit.
Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking
to the Author of all creation, to lift us up,--- to
speak of us!
This is love of a very special
order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate
the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of
death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every
happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how
our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the
ineluctable touch of God.
What is man that Thou art mindful
of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter
where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak
or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us
who believe, each and every day, lies in the same safe
and impregnable place, in the hollow of God's hand." T.