Go On Living Together

by Alina Sato
This post is Part 3 in a series entitled Blessed are Those With and Without a Cancer Diagnosis. Part 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

You’ve walked courageously with me through some painfully honest processing of what it’s like to get a cancer diagnosis. Sometimes our prayers for optimal outcomes are not answered the way we want. He allows us to experience the ache of His ‘no’ for reasons that may always be at least somewhat shrouded in mystery for us. Even for faithful believers who trust that God is good, loving, and open to our pleas, He carries us through seasons of suffering and grief, and we all face physical decline and death one day. As we face the reality that even the sweetest gifts from His hand are only temporary, we discover the even greater reality that He, and only He remains, as the sufficient giver and sustainer of true life when all else fades.

So what now?

Life remains beautiful and hard, blessed and uncertain. Navigating the ups and downs is possible not just because we receive from Christ’s strength, but also from His vulnerability. From there, we can also support and walk with each other in both our strengths and vulnerabilities as well.

Receiving from Christ’s Vulnerability

At different points in my journey, I have been tempted to shake my fist at the sky and ask, “Why didn’t You prevent my suffering? You had all the power to do so, and I know You love me, so why take me and my family down this painful road?” My sufferings and the mysteries surrounding the reasons for them may threaten to present a gap between me and the apparent presence of a good God. It is only when I see how the gap is filled by the story of our suffering Savior, that my sharp questions of “Why?” transform into softer whispers of, “You too, God. You’ve known deep suffering too.”

He could have used His power to take the easy road in building Himself a kingdom (Matthew 4:1-11). He could have avoided suffering, and He understands the desire to bypass painful experiences (Matthew 26:36-39). But He knew that only by walking the whole road to the cross could He free us from the sins that ruin our lives, and liberate us from the death that threatens our eternity. He knew that in order to give us the hope, comfort, and salvation we need, He would have to become vulnerable in unimaginable ways on every level. He knows the fellowship of suffering. This is where I find Him always near. His own suffering is what allows Him to give us the Balm of Himself in our suffering.

Sharing in One Another’s Vulnerability

From diagnosis to lumpectomy, to a post-op complication and through radiation, I regularly updated a group of friends via email about how I and my family were doing. As radiation finished up and I looked ahead to long-term hormone therapy, I struggled more than expected with the transition from the acute phase of treatment to the long-term phase. I realized that the recurrence of cancer would always be a lingering possibility that I’d have to come to terms with, and I was entering into a long-term therapy that had its own potential for significantly uncomfortable side effects. Even still, it was time for my regular email updates to drop off. I didn’t need to fixate all my thoughts – and my friends’ thoughts – around this condition on an ongoing basis. I simply needed to go on living.

We all have drawn-out struggles we’re learning to live with. Chronic illness, strained relationships, loved ones who can’t seem to find their footing, loneliness in a longer-than-anticipated season, complicated situations we cannot easily walk away from. I write this with particularly tremendous respect for those whose experience is one in which a chronic disease has in fact taken over the bulk of their existence, and they feel imprisoned by it. I recognize the privilege and freedoms with which I can walk forward with my good prognosis.
Perhaps all the more, then, in light of those with significantly more limitations than the ones I face, my exhortation in all our ups and downs, is not simply that we must go on living – but that we must go on living together (Galatians 6:2).

I may not need the same frequency or intensity of support as I did when I was in the thick of treatment, but I still need the same grace and acceptance of my weaknesses from my community. I still need their trusted companionship and help. Following the example of Christ’s vulnerability, we can put down our shows of power, our need to perform, and come together as our most honest selves to the foot of the cross, where we are comforted by His love for all of us.

Hold Lightly Earthly Blessings, and Hold Fast to Eternal Life

Toward the end of radiation treatment, I remember realizing I’d gotten so used to my suffering over the months that I couldn’t remember what it was like to truly feel healthy and pain-free. I just tried to find and hold onto as much joy as I could each day, despite the ongoing pain and sadness in the background.

Oh beloved, isn’t this a picture of our current life here on earth, even on our best days? We’ve gotten so used to the things that make life in this world difficult, we can’t even really imagine what real wholeness is going to look and feel like. We’re tempted to resign ourselves that maybe this is all there will ever be. But when we are finally released from this earthly shadow, finally free from all the pains and sorrows we have learned to tolerate, we will transition through our last breath on earth into the deepest intake of awe, wondering how we had ever lived at all before we got to Heaven. When we stand before Him, we will see how unencumbered and fully loved we get to be forever.

For all of us who know and trust Christ, we still feel our afflictions, weep with grief, tremble at our frailty when crisis hits. And yet, we remain secure in His love both now and into eternity that no disease can ever steal away.

Blessed are you without a cancer diagnosis. May you delight in all the good gifts God has given you, and may you be free from any false guilt if you are not currently struggling. What He gives us in seasons of good health, what He gives me now in my current state of remission, is a blessing to be used for His glory. Consider how you might hold loosely your things of earth so that you might share in practical ways the love of Christ with those in need.  Receive with gratitude the sweet seasons the Lord gives you here on earth, and live for eternal purposes. Blessed are you as you serve God and others in your times of wellness.

And yes, blessed are you with a cancer diagnosis, or some affliction that feels deeply painful and disruptive. Know that whatever your ailment or challenge, this is not the end of your life. It is not the end of a beautiful story for you. Enjoy the gifts of loved ones and daily delights as much as you are able. Set your mind on things above and press in deeply to the life He gives that goes far beyond this diagnosis. Cultivate vulnerability and openness with others, not just because they have much to offer you, but because you also have so much to offer them in your journey. Blessed are you and I who have a hard diagnosis to work through. He has already brought us from death to life, and we have a great hope, a great salvation.

Life remains beautiful and hard, blessed and uncertain. But even in the face of our suffering on this side of heaven, let us hold fast to our life’s foundation in Him, and go on living this wild life together.
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