Perhaps if there is one word that all of us dread, it is the word ‘cancer’. Fear, anxiety, depression, anger, panic…all these emotions accompany the ailing person and his immediate relatives and friends.
John Piper knows what he is speaking about. This protestant minister was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the beginning of the year. His reaction was unusual. “This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.”
And he wrote an article with the arresting title ‘Don’t Waste Your Cancer’, in which he outlines ten points that are enlightening not only to cancer patients but also to life-patients – all those who struggle to live life to the full. Like me. Like you perhaps!
He starts by saying that 1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God. Behind life there is a designing hand. And this designing hand is the hand of a very intelligent artist. Lois Caliri dreaded having to go through chemotherapy. Yet she says, “I was also getting to know God in a way I never thought possible. What a wonderful companion. He never left me.”
The second point is even more powerful. 2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. The cross always appears in our life because we need it. It deflates our pompous ego. It puts us in our true dimension. It forces us to raise our eyes to Him. Yes, a gift indeed.
And he continues making it more obvious and clear. 3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God. “Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). With God, you aren’t playing percentages, but living within certainties.
4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death. It is foolish to avoid the unavoidable. The Psalmist is so full of intelligence. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Cancer is merely one of the enemy’s scouting parties, out on patrol. It has no final power if you are a child of the resurrection, so you can look at death in the eye.
John Piper goes even deeper. 5. You will waste your cancer if you think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. The Church always spoke of three enemies – world, devil and the flesh. Whenever an ailment occurs, the flesh always comes forward and sweet-talks us ‘You will suffer, you will be in pain… Rebel against God.’ “God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ.”
Obviously, 6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God. It is good to be informed. It is stupid however not to take advantage of your time to reflect and read about Him and his friends. Put Mary in the equation of your life.
One big temptation in sickness is to shut yourself up. Your needs become the only concern. Everyone has to rotate around you. Some lock themselves. They put on the shutters. This is why 7, You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepening your relationships with manifest affection.
And remember always that 8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. Emotions of anguish subsist. But our heartache is different. There is always a window open. This window opens to heaven.
A critical thought, perhaps. But a required one. 9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. Perhaps God thought of cancer as a way to destroy the appetite for sin. “Pride, greed, lust, hatred, un-forgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination-all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack.” Cancer can thus become an ally! Take advantage. Rearrange your priorities.
And the final consideration, 10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ. In bed you can save people. By uniting your sufferings to the love Jesus Christ manifested on the cross, your pain acquires a tremendous redemptive power that God will shower on those who need it.
Besides, God plans the whole thing perfect. Many people will visit you. Many people will call you. Show to the whole world that He is worth more than life. Show to the whole world that your “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. Yes, magnify Christ in and through your sickness!
You can waste your life. For heaven’s sake, do NOT do it. You only have one of it.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.