First published 18 February 2013
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
I went for some tests – an endoscopy in fact – in hospital the other day. As the nurse was doing the booking in form with me, she was remarking that everything was normal – blood pressure, textbook 120/80; temperature, normal; oxygen level, 97%; no asthma, no diabetes; and so on. She was waiting to hear something abnormal that might indicate why I needed to be there. It was only the question about medical history that gave her the answer, and as she asked she noticed the size of my file on the desk in front of her!
I told her briefly about the non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the treatment in 2010 and the recent relapse and retreatment. She remarked that it was good that I still remained cheerful, I was still smiling, because she reckoned that was unusual.
It’s not the only time someone has remarked on my positive attitude. A few times when I have had to break the news about my illness to friends or acquaintances that I haven’t been in touch with for a while they’ve said even my emails convey a positive outlook. They think it’s remarkable that I am not full of self-pity or despondency.
It just made me wonder, is it really that unusual? It’s not something I was conscious of. I was just getting on with things, having the treatment, doing what needs to be done to get through. I wasn’t consciously trying to be anything. I just don’t see the point in worrying about stuff. I accept the way things are. I’m not bitter. It’s just stuff to get through that is not as easy as normal life. And really, to be honest, for me cancer has been just a bit unpleasant, but nothing grotesquely painful (so far); although I accept that the NHS will have spent thousands and thousands of pounds making it just unpleasant rather than deadly!
I know I’ve published similar thoughts on this blog before, but sometimes I don’t appreciate how unusual it is to feel that way. I still don’t really believe it is unusual. I haven’t personally met many fellow sufferers that have been openly despondent or depressed. So maybe people are just buttering me up to be encouraging!
Whether or not it is, in fact, unusual, I cannot deny that there is a significant spiritual element for me.
I have an eternal hope through the Lord Jesus Christ – hope of life as it should be. There will come a time when imperfection will be swept away – all evil, illness, pain, suffering, death, sadness, grief – all gone. I will one day be free from cancer, and from all illness, for ever, and free from the sin that plagues me. Death will be a distant memory, and not a lurking fear. And life will be full of joy, full of the God of joy, the Creator of everything good.
I know that God is in control over all things, so that nothing frustrates Him or thwarts Him. And I know that He loves me as a precious son (and I know how much I love my children, and His love must be infinitely greater). So I know that whatever I go through now must be for my good, even if I cannot see it directly.
And if my Saviour, Jesus, can submit himself to suffering the pain of betrayal, torture, an agonising death and the wrath of God upon sin, all for the sake of people like me, then how can I refuse to submit to less if that is God’s will? I am a follower of Christ. And He didn’t just happen to suffer. He came to suffer.
In facing all that, Jesus raised his eyes to the “joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). And I am determined to do the same. I am also determined that I must encourage others to seek out and discover that joy, which is the joy of adoption as a son and heir by our Creator. It’s a joy that is only available through faith in Jesus Christ, whose death removes the barrier between the believer and God, the barrier of sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of eternal life.
I don’t hold these things consciously in mind 24 hours a day, but the knowledge of them helps to give me a positive outlook. If we know that no matter what obstacles we meet along the way, however difficult or frustrating, we are sure to attain our biggest and final objective, then those obstacles will not seem so big. Short term pain is still pain, frustration is still frustration, hardship is still hard. But none of my pains, frustrations and hardships can prevent me from reaching the eternal joy that I mentioned earlier. “… in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
There is an infinitely deep reservoir of hope for the Christian, rooted in Jesus Christ, and promised in the Word of God. I know that I have the rest of my life ahead of me, and that there may be even harder times, times when I may not look or sound so cheerful or positive, times when my heart aches, times when physical pain clouds almost every other thought. I pray that the Lord will enable me to persevere, and strengthen me to fight to keep drinking from that reservoir, to always fix my eyes upon Jesus and the joy set before me.