How to talk about tough times

I just discovered a blog by a young woman who discovered she had thyroid cancer and had to defer her first year of law school because of her surgeries and treatments.  I’ve read through pretty much the whole thing…at least since her cancer diagnosis, because I like hearing the whole story.  (That’s typically what I do when I find a blog that resonates with me.)  I’ve posted a link to her blog in the sidebar, and I will be following her story with interest. Her name is Lydia Joy Ness.

I find her God-centeredness inspiring.  You can tell in her writing that her spirituality is real, that she is truly seeking to know God.

As I read her blog, I strongly identify with her as she wrestles with the loss of control over her life and how the label of “cancer” will change the way people view her.  (The reality is that none of us are in control in the first place.  I just have to come to face that more fully now–that’s the battle I’m fighting as I try to accept being on a daily medication for the rest of my life just to stay alive.)

Another thing she writes about a great deal is the meaning of suffering and our approach to suffering as followers of Christ.  One thing she brings up is the importance of being real about our suffering–letting others see it and not just putting on a brave face, and how difficult that can be because of pride.  I have been thinking about this, and I agree with her.  By hiding our experience from others, we deny them the chance to help us, and we also deny people the chance to benefit from hearing our story. Part of this, for me, is finding a way to share my experience without being a complainer.

I am going to work on developing this through this blog and in my relationships with others in real life.  I know I have a tendency to put on a brave face to protect others.  I don’t want my friends to suffer anxiety, or in this specific case to overreact to a diagnosis that includes the “C” word.

When you talk about cancer there is an immediate visceral reaction, but in reality, there is a very wide range of seriousness with various types and stages of cancer.  I know some cancer survivors that had sub-centimeter lumps removed and that was it.  I don’t want to minimize the anxiety they experienced while waiting for test results or undergoing surgery, or the implications of a lifetime of follow up–which is what I am looking at right now.  On the other end of the spectrum are people like my mom, who went through chemo and surgery and more chemo and more surgery and radiation, and took supplements, and tried juicing and raw food diets, and had more surgery and more radiation etc, etc, etc, and still died in suffering.

My cancer is most likely towards the first end of the spectrum.  It’s not without its anxieties and pain, but most likely it will be a low-level, not-too-scary experience.  The words “hassle” and “irritant” keep coming to my mind.  Anyway, I’m off on a tangent.  My original point is about being real and not pretending everything is fine when it’s not.  And for me, trying to find the balance between being real and being a whiner.

[Just an aside–I don’t consider myself to be “suffering” right now.  There has been a certain amount of physical and mental stress associated with this experience, but I know that my burden has been very light, especially when compared to what I see and have seen others going through.]

Another thing she talks about is trying not to look at suffering through the lens of what good comes out of it, at least not always.  She calls seeing-good-out-of-evil the “Oprah” approach. (She references a book, Glorious Ruin, by Tullian Tchividjian for a lot of these thoughts.)   What she’s saying is that suffering is a result of living in a broken world–a world that desperately needs Christ.  She says we should call it what it is–admit that suffering is awful and it hurts. I have been trying to digest what she says on this, and I think she has a good point.  Suffering is awful.  It does hurt.  And it is because we live in a corrupted, broken world that needs saving.

However, I would say that even taking that point of view is, by definition, finding something positive to come out of the negative.  In our suffering, we are pointed to Christ.  That’s a good thing.  We need Christ because we cannot make things better here, because we don’t have control of our lives, because we are helpless and needy.  Coming to that realization is good.

I am also put in mind of those powerful, powerful words in Romans,  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:28-29)  That’s not Oprah.  It’s scripture.

I believe that “All things work together for good,” means that He is working on me, to make me “conformed to the image of His Son.”  He uses whatever experiences come to me in this broken world to shape me into who he wants me to be. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)  I have already seen how going through the loss of my mother has unlocked some things within me that I am able to use in His service.  I expect this experience to do the same. 

I don’t really mean this as an argument against Lydia’s reasoning.  I think, essentially, that I agree with her point and she would probably agree with mine.  Just a little different take on it, maybe.

Now I need to go have a few non-cancer-focused days.  I need to stay off the message boards, be a mom, do my work at home, help my kids with their schooling, and get ready for Vacation Bible School and Rustic Youth Camp.

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