Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cancer and Questions Pt. 3: Mom

I've written a lot in the past few years about how my father's battle with cancer has shaped and influenced me. Suffering at a young age defined and solidified my faith in a God who proved not to fit inside the box I once imagined for Him: a God who is good, but not a puppet; who is Healer, but not a genie; who is victorious, but by a path I would not choose to take. It gave me categories to understand a God whose way to life is through death, for whom the way up is down, and whose very instruments of healing are the scars on His hands and side. 

But I admit: last week when I heard the news that now my mom has cancer too, I paused. Blinking, stunned as if caught in the light of an oncoming train, I wondered: is it still true? Does all that "God is good" stuff still apply? It might make a nice formula for surviving one nightmare, but does a second slap to the face render those pretty words null and void? How could He allow this to happen again? Why would He strike us down again, after we had just begun to gain confidence enough to put one foot in front of the other and move forward, after we had just begun to take the risk and live in the aftermath? 

As I've pondered, cried and prayed, the same two words kept recurring: How (could this happen)? and Why? And what I've realized is, I may never know. Four years in seminary-- or forty years of ministry experience-- will not provide me with the key to crack the code, the formula to explain the phenomena. Life is a mystery, and we are not promised answers. Nor are we promised protection from the complexity and pain of life in a broken world. It is utterly hopeless to believe that if I'm good, I'll be spared from reality, or if I figure out how to get "in" with God, He'll coddle me, preventing me from feeling the effects of sin. 

And yet, the longer I look upon Him, the more convinced I become that neither is He permitting these circumstances to "teach me a lesson" or "make me pay." This is not His way of playing the sadistic parent or the bad cop, manipulatively promising to make it all go away once we figure out what we're doing wrong or how we need to get our act together. It is utterly hopeless to believe that if I jump through the right religious hoops, I'll be given the key to crack the code, the formula to change the phenomena. Life is a mystery, and we are not promised answers. 

Even as I write these realizations, I wonder what my response to them ought to be. Apathetic acceptance? A Pollyanna face? Stoicism, depression, disillusionment? A lack of interest in a God who won't throw me a bone even when I play by His rules? In my confusion, I think of Jesus. He was God's own son, subjected to the most senseless suffering imaginable. God did not spare Him from the complexity of life in this broken world. Rather, He allowed Him to carry the weight of it. The end of His perfectly lived life was the Cross. 

In the face of His suffering, Jesus did not become disillusioned or doubt God's character, but He didn't pretend to be above it, either. He wept. He expressed His fear, His pain, His bewilderment to the Father. He stayed fully alive to the complexity of the whole experience, and didn't seek to detach Himself through some cold, impersonal formula. To the very end of His life, He remained honest and He remained in relationship. "My God my God, why have you forsaken me?" 

As I approach this season, that's what I want for my mom, my siblings, and myself: to remain honest and to remain in relationship. There isn't a secret formula out there that will somehow inoculate us to the pain of it all. There isn't a code to crack that will make the tragedy stop. And there isn't holiness in pretending it doesn't hurt like hell. It does, and that's precisely the point. If Jesus wept, so should we. Things are not as they should be, and things like cancer and death remind us of that reality. Our calling is not to try and explain it away or somehow detach ourselves from it, but rather to stay fully alive to it. And to follow the God whose path was to go through it. 

He doesn't promise answers, only Himself. And if I need reminding that He's not somehow above my pain, I simply need to reach out and touch the scars.  


Lauren Winstead said...

Oh Hannah this just breaks my heart for you & your family... Praying for you all

Nchao said...

I'm praying for you, your Mom, and your family, Hannah. May you have peace.