I have been told I have cancer. We often hear that other people have the dreaded "C" word but now it is my turn.
Initially it was hard to get my head around the news. The oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute was unsure how to approach my treatment. My situation is complicated by the fact that I also have advanced multiple sclerosis. Eventually a treatment plan was devised and by the time you read this, I will have had surgery.
My first prayer after the diagnosis was to give my situation to God. His response was clear and immediate: A deep peace descended upon me. Christ's presence has become very real. I am at peace with whatever the future holds.
I think of St. Paul's words to the Philippians: "For I know that this will result in deliverance for me through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain" (1.19-21).
Although St. Paul's words were written when he faced the very real prospect martyrdom for Christ, his words still reassure me.
I am able to give my suffering to Christ too. If things go badly for me, perhaps God will give me the opportunity to use my cancer as a witness to the hope that is within me – ultimately culminating in my being with Christ.
If things go well and the cancer is cured, I will continue to witness about the hope I have in Christ despite degenerative multiple sclerosis. Either way I have the opportunity to glorify God.
St. Peter told us to sanctify Christ in our hearts and "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3.15). That is a responsibility Christians must not take lightly.
Hope in bad circumstances tends to mystify non-Christian observers. They may be prompted to enquire how and why they see hope in a person they perceive to be in a dire situation, and by worldly standards, should give up hope.
People might look at somebody with limited function and in a wheelchair (like me) and think they would not want to live in such a state. I see it more in their faces than in their words; they are too polite to say what they are thinking.
On occasion, I have put into words what intuition suggests to me is on their minds. After assuring them that I don't want to be so disabled either, I tell them God is using my disability to prepare me for eternity. I do believe that.
In 1623, the Christian poet John Donne suffered an illness that nearly killed him. He referred to that illness in a series of meditations he wrote during his convalescence. He wrote, "No man hath affliction enough, that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by affliction."
Donne felt that affliction and tribulation can have a marvelous purifying effect and a way of drawing the sufferer "nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it."
But suffering is a high stakes prospect for the human soul. It can, in some people, be of no spiritual use to them. In others, suffering or tribulation embitters them.
Why the different responses in different people? It depends on whether they keep ownership of their pain or relinquish it to God – trusting he will use it for their ultimate good. Suffering is a high stakes prospect because it cuts to the core of a person's humanity.
Being a Christian does not necessarily mean God will protect us from pain or trials, but he will be with us through them (if we let him). We may be hard pressed by our circumstances but with Christ we are not crushed, struck down but not destroyed.
I have often been perplexed by my suffering but with Christ I do not despair or feel abandoned. I have given my suffering to Christ. I carry in my body the death of my Lord in hopes that, in a small way, the life of Christ might be revealed in me (see 2 Corinthians 4.7-9).
Later in the same chapter we find these reassuring words: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."
Yes, this is the fruit of the hope within me.