Living With Cancer: Perseverance and Prayer

Painting depression (2)
An original oil painting of depression.  I donated this painting to the U.S. Army Reserve to help in PTSD counseling for returning war veterans. 

Living with cancer is always somewhat of a thrill.  Friday, I had my monthly blood tests and when the results came in there was a test result that I did not understand.  So, immediately my heart sped up and the blood pounded in my ears while the rational part of my brain calmly told my body to knock it off, it was probably nothing to be worried about.

So, I put a call into my oncologist and left him the message, “Is there anything in today’s lab tests that I need to be concerned about?”

While I was waiting for a call back, Susie, my neighbor, came over and we decided to try our hand at cheese making again.  Just when we only had about five minutes left on our cheese timer, before we had to start kneading the cheese curds,the phone rang. It was the cancer care clinic.

My oncology nurse calmly asked me which test result, of the many reported, was troubling me and gave me a choice of two options to choose from…the bilirubin or the new test I had not seen before. I told her it was the new test. She had correctly determined what had caused my alarm and told me that there was nothing, at all, that my doctor was concerned about…and that she personally asked him.  She then told be to have a great weekend, and I spent the rest of that afternoon and every moment since doing just that.

Life after a cancer diagnosis is like a roller coaster ride with high, highs on the days that come with good reports and terrifying plunges straight down into the valley of fear when the news is more challenging.

I have always hated to be afraid.  As a child, I was of the terrified of the dark and the creepy noises in our old farm house and of the fear of suffocation that comes during a severe asthma attack when you cannot fill your lungs. Even then, I can remember clearly thinking that feeling fear was some sort of a character flaw–specifically, a Christian faith type of character flaw. I always interpreted negative feelings such as fear, anxiety and sorrow as a lack of faith and trust in God.

As a young child I had been taught the stories of the Bible. I wanted ever so much to be like the strong heroic biblical characters whose trust in God was so strong that they no longer feared loss, pain or death in this world.  Or so my childlike reasoning thought.

Then, as my body and mind matured, so did my faith and understanding of those strong biblical people of God.  They were not the Mary Poppins, I had thought them to be. Their faith, courage and bravery, that I so envied, was always a conscious decision.  Those people of faith chose to be strong for their God regardless of their personal frailties, fears and faults of which they had many. They had learned, as Winston Church once said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”

It seems to me that many so called Christian ministries of today teach more about the fear of satan and his minions that the power of God. Fear and anxiety are not sins, or signs of the “enemy” attacking or symptoms of a fragile relationship with God. Biblical heroes like  Joseph, King David and even Christ himself all experienced fear, anxiety and sometimes downright dread.  Joseph when he was in the pit and prison, King David as he fasted and begged the Lord to spare his and Bathsheba’s first son from death and Jesus Christ himself in the garden of Gethsemane.  Christ, the very son of God, was so troubled that he sweated blood and begged God saying,

“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

That text describes some pretty intense emotional suffering by someone who was without sin.

Scripture teaches us that suffering can serve to strengthen our faith and our personal character. A pastor who once visited me during one of my illnesses, listened to me complain about how unfair it was that I was always suffering while it seemed that so many other Christians, who lived like the very devil,  had nothing but good fortune. I wanted to know why I was always being punished by God, when since I was a small child I have tried my best to follow his laws and worship his son as my savior. After listening to all of my troubles the pastor quietly told  me, ” Patricia, you have great faith that has been tested, if faith has never been tested, is it faith?”

Romans 5: 3-5  “Not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

God knew that I needed to be tested all of those times when I was young.  For had I not been, I would never have been strong enough to persevere and endure the immense pain and suffering that I experienced while fighting multiple myeloma for the past four years. I spent over 18 months in a body cast! Suffering strengthen me. It toughened me up and taught me to trust in God. Through suffering I have grown into a much more empathetic and caring person. Suffering is indeed the ultimate character building experience.

I think that suffering also produces wisdom. It is not a lack of faith, but God-given wisdom that helps us understand the reality of disease, medical tests, treatments and outcomes. Living with a life threatening chronic disease is frightening.   I do not believe God expects Christians to live in a fools paradise of denial.  Christianity is not about the denial of reality, but of the acceptance of God’s will.  Our heavenly Father provides courage, patience and peace to us during times of adversity.

So, how does God know when I need to fight fear and find courage?  I tell him through prayer.  I believe in the immense power of prayer and have been the recipient of its many blessings.

How are we to pray?  Well, prayer does not need to be fancy or public, in fact Jesus teaches us just the opposite. He tells us that God knows what we need even before we pray. The scriptures instruct us to pray in secret where God, in secret, will hear us. We are not to be like the “Pharisees” of biblical times who sought the attention and esteem of man with their public prayers.  God knows the difference between sincere prayer and prayers for show. Our heavenly Father can not be manipulated through prayer. God is not mocked.

Prayers do not have to be long. God expects us to get to the point using everyday language. Jesus taught that prayers should not be filled with lots of empty phrases. Then, as an example of how to pray he provided his followers with the short, beautiful, all encompassing Lord’s Prayer.

Then, too, prayer is about asking God, not telling him. There is a big difference between humbly seeking God’s aid and arrogantly demanding he do your will. We are not to test the Lord our God.  He is God.

Lastly, God is not a cosmic vending machine. Having a strong faith in and relationship with God, does not guarantee he will answer our prayers to our satisfaction or in our timing. Nor, does not being granted a prayer request mean that God is punishing you for not believing enough. As Christ said it is thy will, not my will.  .

It has always greatly troubled me and  I do not think I have ever seen or heard anything more cruel than when “Christians” test sick people’s faith. After praying for them, should the person get worse or die, it is the stricken’s fault for not believing strong enough in their own healing. I have actually had people ask me what sin I have committed that God would give me cancer. The Bible verse of “you do this to the least of mine you have done so onto me” always pops into my head.  For surely the sick and dying are the least of his. Then, I pray that God shows more mercy to them, than they have shown to others.

As I live with cancer I have the peace of knowing that God will never leave or forsake me.  I am assured that there is nothing in the heavens or hell that can separate me from the love of God.  Ever.

Romans 8:35, 38-39

35 Who will separate us from the Messiah’s love? Can trouble, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger, or a violent death do this?  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor anything above, nor anything below, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is ours in union with the Messiah Jesus, our Lord.”

I know that in times of doubt, fear and suffering when I don’t see God, he always sees me. I am his beloved and protected child. I can be confident that he will allow no spiritual evil to “attack” in my weakness. As a loving father, God will hold me in the palm of his hand while I am on this imperfect earth.  He wants me to feel joy.  When my time comes to die, as it will for all of us, it will be alright with him if I feel fear.

Romans 15: 4  For everything that was written long ago was written to instruct us, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. “

So each morning I say that today is a day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.   I pray that God gives me faith, courage, patience and peace. Then, I pop out of bed and to get this show on the road.

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