I am two days post op for malignant melanoma with a large scar in my leg and a tender groin where nodes were removed: now the real work begins in working out my faith and moving forward.
Faith is not a passive slumbering thing, it is real and active, coming alive even more in challenging or life threatening circumstances. Some would say faith is blind (in the past psychologists and atheists described accepting Christian faith as a blind leap) but currently for me it helps clarify what life is all about.
Staring mortality in the face is not a popular past-time in modern culture; we are all busy, trying to get comfortable whilst constantly reassured by advertising that says “we are worth it” “we are in control”. However it doesn’t take much to get a glimpse of the reality lying just beneath the polished veneer of our fragile existence: a near miss on the roads, a friend has an accident, a natural disaster occurs or your own health or that of those you love, is called into question. Shocked, we are forced into taking stock, pausing to consider just for a short while what life is all about and what we really value, why we are here and what our purpose is.
Blind faith would speak platitudes into my situation and the future saying “it will all be alright”.
Real faith, as the Bible puts it, says “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (ESV Hebrews 11v1) sees our fragile reality and in the face of uncertainty, real doubts and honest concerns, fights to believe that God has a purpose and has not left the building.
Those with real faith do not expect to be exempt from suffering: no-where in the Bible does it state that those who follow Christ will somehow magically avoid illness, accident, suffering and harm – even death; but that we should expect challenges in life; that in our suffering God is with us, carrying us and helping us to become stronger, learning to deal with human frailty and to understand more clearly his values and the eternal picture.
CS Lewis, Christian author and writer of the Narnia series watched his wife die of cancer and explained that “pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world”. The illusion of control is so strong now that it takes a significant event like the Tsunami to help us realise what is really important and how we should spend our time and resources.
My chosen reaction to this bad news of cancer has a background; I had an excellent example growing up from my Dad who survived a near fatal car accident when I was one and was paralysed from the neck down. He was told he would never walk again, but through prayer, faith and determination he walked out of Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Unit a few months later. He has written and spoken of his struggle with suffering and has fought to hold on to faith through it all. Recently he suffered another fall leaving him in a wheelchair and has fought for months to regain some walking once again. He has never complained and I admire his determination to fight on and believe that God is still with us.
So where does that leave me? Well it’s hard to deal with mortality and see the reaction to my news in those around me. I have been reminded of the fact that my life is still in God’s hands and that my earthly future is uncertain, but my eternal one assured. I would like people to acknowledge their reaction and to look into what life is really about; also to help others be more aware of preventative measures to reduce their own cancer risk.
My faith is now moving up a gear, more active as I hold in tension the reality of a potential for more suffering, loss and an increase in my risk of going to heaven in the next ten years, while still seeking God’s path for my life and trying to live like Christ, as he said “I have come that they may have life to the full”(John 10v10).
This means I am setting myself some goals over the next few weeks, months and years to remind me of what’s important and to focus on what is right.
1. To spend time with the people I love and develop my relationship with God.
2. To serve those I am called to in my role as a Doctor, Husband, Father, Brother, Friend and Son.
3. To make the most of my energy, time and resources to life live to the full.
4. To start training for a Triathlon to be achieved next summer once my wound heals.
5. To do all I can to raise awareness of preventable health problems.
6. To try to live every day to the max as if it were my last.
Another great verse puts all this better than I could, not hiding in denial but running the marathon of life with real faith :
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 3v14)
This complex syntax typical of St Paul basically states that he is focused by faith on what is unseen and wants to reach the goals set by Christ not those set by the material world around him. Amen to that.