Back in March US Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow, 51, a husband and father of three, announced that cancer had returned, with tumors found in his abdomen.. this led to surgery in April, followed by chemotherapy. Today a friend sent me an email pointing me to an article that Tony wrote in July for Christianity Today titled Cancer's Unexpected Blessings. Here are a few excerpts from the article with my comments interspersed:
Blessings arrive in unexpected packages—in my case, cancer.To begin, I have to say that I was humbled by Tony's writing.. he is eloquent and communicates with sensitivity and with a deep spirituality. I love how he says don't spend a lot of time asking the why questions.. it is often really difficult to get past 'why'.
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.
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.Wow, what a description of the fear of dying. These days the idea of hope seems to just inhabit every part of me. I love how Tony says that we were born unto life.
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.I so wish that this wasn't true.. unfortunately it is. I truly began to mature spiritually when I was forced to deal with my first wife's illness and death. Hardship, pain and suffering takes us to spiritual places that nothing else can take us to.
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."You have been called." This statement caught me off guard.. it is a statement that my flesh cries out against.. I do not want to be called to hardship.. but something deep in my soul understands the truth of this calling.
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."
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.I identify more with fearful caution.. I don't like the thrills, dangers and shocks.. but I also identify with boldness, triumphs and epiphanies.
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.I would have bristled at these words if spoken by someone else. We all know.. to some degree.. that it is not all about us.. but it is so hard to hear when we hurt so much. In a sense this is the main truth of life.. love is not meant to be kept.. it is meant to be shared.
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 partway there.
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.Tony leads up to this ending by telling a story about a friend that had cancer and died from it. He shared about how this man lifted him up and encouraged him. I guess that is what Tony did for me today when I read his article (read it in total here). I hope this encouraged you and lifted you up.. I hope that it was an unexpected blessing.
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, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.