In my last post, I gave a brief overview of my spiritual journey, leading to how I view God, a/k/a my Higher Power. This post is about how I’ve assimilated that view into the outlook that I have now, as a woman living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, a diagnosis that will kill me sooner than later.
In the breast cancer groups I’ve been a part of over the last two (2) years, it seems that there are a few “camps” or groups of people when it comes to spirituality when a serious or terminal illness intrudes:
- The people who have rejected the view of a higher power based on the fact that there is so much bad stuff in the world and in their lives. These people may have had a view of God before their diagnosis or not, but the reality of their situation is that they reject God or any other entity as having power in the world or over their lives. The cry of, how could any Higher Power cause such evil, pain, etc., in the world, is genuine and heartfelt and I’ve been there.
- The people who turn to God in a really big way and always comment and post about how one just needs to “trust God” and all will be well. These people likely subscribe to a version of the prosperity Gospel, believing that if they only believe hard enough, do good enough, follow the rules, they will survive cancer, will conquer whatever issues are present in their lives. This view is seductive and draws people in who are looking for a set of rules, a blueprint, a list to follow with a certain reward. Again, this is a genuine, concrete response and I’ve been there.
- The people who comment “thoughts and prayers” to every ranty, ragey post, offer no solutions or true empathy. Pretending that everything is fine is exhausting and I don’t envy any of the people who fall in this category. The energy it takes to keep up the facade that it isn’t excruciatingly awful to be dying is monumental. I have tried this at various times and I can’t do it, I can’t keep it up.
Before moving on from this list, please understand that I’m not judging any of these reactions. Everyone has their own background and framework for understanding and dealing with the trauma of a terminal illness and how their view of a Higher Power fits or doesn’t. Everyone is dealing with their own stuff in the background and I don’t begrudge anyone their coping mechanisms or how they view God.
It’s just that, yet again, I don’t fit. A blogger I follow and greatly respect, Nancy Stordahl, has an entire post about how she’s a “cancer misfit.” Maybe I should be used to this by now, that it simply is my lot in life to be searching for a place to belong or, perhaps, making one. Yep, here I am again, defying the norms.
Spiritually, we’ve made some new traditions and practices since my diagnosis. Perhaps controversially, we don’t belong to a church. We don’t go to a place on Sunday mornings to worship.
What we do practice is a rich spiritual life.
We talk about God, we read about God, we talk to God. One of my favorite books on parenting thus far is “Strong Mothers, Strong Sons,” by Dr Meg Meeker. In it, she talks about the profound affect on a son’s spiritual life that a mother can have, that a mother shapes how a son views God since the first model of nurturing is a mother. I’ve taken this to heart and despite the fact the my boys don’t regularly attend Sunday School, they know Bible stories and they know about God.
They have this knowledge because I’m giving it to them.
I just have to say that talking about God with children is truly awe-inspiring. With the same willingness to accept God as Mickey Mouse or Paw Patrol or Blaze, my boys come up with the richest and most profound comments about God without trying. It’s just who they are and it is beautiful. My eldest is presently convinced that God is in the northern lights. Every time we see a picture of the northern lights or see them in a movie or video, he very excitedly points out that “there is God.” I have the same feelings about the ocean, a sunset, a sunrise; God is there.
Even though we aren’t visible in a church community, we are known. We have surrounded ourselves with people who are helpful to us, who are supportive to us, who we can support, who we can be helpful to. Some of those people are local. Some of those people aren’t. We don’t need to go somewhere on Sunday morning to experience community.
As for God, He and I have a relationship. That relationship often ebbs and flows. He is a profound influence on my life, on who I am. We talk. We talk regularly. I also yell and sometimes call Him names that aren’t nice. I’m pretty thankful that I don’t audibly hear what He thinks of me at times. I’m not an easy person to know or love at times.
I don’t view God the same as I did before cancer invaded my bones and my life. I don’t know or understand why He has allowed this to happen to me. I don’t know or understand why so many of my metsters die all the time. I don’t know or understand the bigger picture or why evil is alive and well in the world.
I’m ok with that.
Most days, I’m ok with that.
Some days, that’s part of my ranting and raving at God.
At the end of the day, I come back to a fundamental, core belief that God is love. He is in control and He personifies love. I can glimpse a small amount of this love within the love that I have for my children. How I work so hard to ensure that they have everything they need (not everything they want), that sometimes a part of this love is saying no and sometimes a part of this love is doing things that my children literally hate in the moment. My husband and I do a lot that our children don’t particularly like; at the same time, we do this out of a deep abiding love for them and a desire for their best.
How much more does God love me?
I can’t provide a measure; at the same time, I know He does. He loves me more than I could ever love my children. He loves me more than I could ever love my husband. He loves me more than I could ever love my family. I don’t understand nor can I adequately describe this love; at the same time, I know that I feel it.
For someone like me, who believes and trusts in real, concrete, literal, this trust in the unseen, the untouchable, the amorphous is way out of character. It’s unlike anything else in my life. Yet, I trust it. I rely on it. I know it exists with a deep knowing that outstrips anything else.
I don’t understand why I have cancer. I don’t understand why my cancer spread to my bones and there is no cure. I don’t understand why my friends die. I don’t understand why we are ignored. I don’t understand why we are having to scream and rage and demonstrate and kick and scratch and fight for the funding to save our lives.
I can’t answer any of these important questions that I struggle with daily.
But I can answer this one … God loves me. He desires the best for me. It’s ok that I don’t know because He does. That’s enough most days. Other days, I struggle, I wrestle, I doubt, I scream, I argue … and that’s where He meets me.