Suffering teaches us the beauty of hope
‘When there is hope, cancer is victim, not victor.
When there is hope, death is subject to resurrection’
If I were rich, I always said, I would have a floral bouquet delivered to my home every week of the year. In my dreams, I would never be without good music, fine art, or fresh flowers. My world would be filled with beauty.
But life isn’t always beautiful. It is losing loved ones. It is enduring war. It is being diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer is indiscriminate; it has no concern for age, gender, race, or social or economic status. It affects babies and seniors, drug addicts and priests, high-school dropouts and rocket scientists.
The pain of cancer’s victims and of their friends and families is indescribable. Even having experienced it makes one no expert. No matter how common the diagnosis, we still reel with shock in its presence. There is so much about this disease that confounds us: How did it happen? Why? What now? Is there hope?
Whatever the present season of our life, cancer plunges us into winter. It confuses and rearranges the plans of our mortality. Attacking and eventually destroying the very body they feed upon, the cancer cells in their uncontrolled growth overwhelm our defenses, leaving us bewildered and vulnerable.
To enter a cancer clinic is to walk head-on into vulnerability; it is to invade another world where each person walks alone and there is no quick escape from what lies ahead. Those first footsteps are measured in miles, life is now calculated in moments. In silence, faces stare and eyes probe. Audible questions are few, overruled by an intense longing for answers.
But there is also a sense of instant camaraderie. There is a knowing, an understanding, a companionship that transcends the usual formalities of new friendship. A commonality exists; an unspoken agreement that none has escaped unscathed.
Being vulnerable is not the same as being without hope, though. Being vulnerable means we stand alone and unprotected; hope provides both fellowship and refuge in the most difficult circumstances. We do not choose the ravages of cancer, but in choosing to expose ourselves to the communion of mutual pain, we lose our uniqueness. In reaching out to one another, we take hold of a level of trust. The moment we link ourselves with someone else, we no longer stand alone. We lose a little of our vulnerability. We begin to embrace hope.
But what is hope all about? What is its basis?
First of all, it is not pretending that all is well. That’s denial.
It is not a vague feeling that somehow I will escape my own mortality. That’s presumption.
Above all, it is not the attitude that God is subject to my demands. That is spiritual arrogance.
Hope, above all else, is the confidence that God will never leave me nor forsake me, in life or in death. It is having a place of refuge, a place to run, when facing what lies ahead is more than the mind or heart can bear.
Through the agony of cancer, sometimes we just have to hide. Hope allows us the privilege of closing our eyes and ears while abandoning ourselves to the promises of God. Resting on the naked strength of Scripture, hope provides a refuge.
When there is hope, cancer is victim, not victor. When there is hope, death is subject to resurrection. When there is hope, feelings bow before God’s sovereign power.
It was Henri J.M. Nouwen who said, “When we can face death with hope, we can live life with generosity.”
We survive on hope; without it, we would never truly live, even while alive. It is hope that inspires us to believe that cancer is not the ultimate end. It is hope that gives the strength to keep on going when it would be so much easier to give up. It is hope that compels us to keep fighting. It is hope that reminds us, even in our recovery, that God is the source of our help.
Hope is the cry of our hearts to live. It is the yearning of the heart for the fulfillment of our dreams. No one hopes more than those who struggle with a life-threatening disease.
But hope creates beauty, too. When life is less than good books, gentle music, and fresh flowers, hope enables us to live generously. It empowers us to laugh, to give thanks, to cheer a fellow sufferer. Hope sees past winter and touches the warmth of spring. Grasping the hand of another, it brings sunshine into black despair. Hope brings God into a bleeding heart.
No, life isn’t always beautiful; but hope is, and it can fill a world – even a cancer-blighted world – with beauty.