Much like two sides to a coin, there are two sides to one’s life, the physical and the spiritual. I’m a firm believer that the two are woven together and affect each other. But they are also separate aspects of a person. Different needs are required for both.
The physical nature of the cancer in my body has certainly had a profound effect on my spiritual health. So I understand the question that medical professionals ask as well as close friends. “How are you doing?” many times means more than if I am in physical pain. People want to know how I’m internally thinking and feeling about my life since my diagnosis.
My mental health is not a stagnant pond, but more like the shore of the sea. The waves ebb and flow. The tide comes in and goes out. No day is the same; yet, there are constants. I have a Rock that is always firm despite the size and intensity of the waves of the storm.
I use this analogy partly because of Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
This was also the picture I kept in my mind in the days and weeks immediately following the death of our infant son in 2013. It felt like a storm had beat on our house, and all we had was the Rock of our foundation left. While grieving our loss, my heart clung to the truth: “God is good.”
So when this breast cancer storm hit, I went back to this familiar passage for comfort once again. This second storm is greater and more intense. The winds and waves have beat on our house without end. But the Rock has not moved. And I cling to it harder than ever before.
Focusing on Things Above
I know that I did not create my faith. There is no room for me to boast about how great my faith is (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Let me instead boast in God and how unchanging He is. His Word is completely true and trustworthy (1 Peter 1:24-25). The Bible comforts me by providing the framework to understand life. Yet the same way the tide rises and falls, so some days are harder than others to rest in what I know is true.
One morning only a few weeks after my diagnosis, I woke up and just lay in bed staring at the wall. The onslaught of all the new terms about breast cancer and medications made me feel so ignorant and out of control. Everything was new and unfamiliar. I was scared. But then in that moment, I realized that while I may not have a medical degree what I did have no one could take away. Who God is hadn’t changed. What I knew and had studied about Jesus was still the same. So, I determined then that I would lean hard into what I did know. I wasn’t going to go crazy researching every cancer article I could find online. I wasn’t going to buy all the books about coping with cancer or make radical life changes. Jesus was going to be my anchor.
And even though I have wonderful friends and family, it is Jesus who is always with me. When anxiety sneaks in suddenly, I cry out to the Shepherd of my soul for peace. The moments when the pain is too much to bear, I ask my Savior for mercy to endure. All alone in a waiting room or in a scan, He has not forsaken me. I never have to worry about Him not being available. There is no doubt about His love and care.
The Bible and Suffering
The Bible is full of examples of godly people experiencing suffering. Sometimes it is the result of evil forces gaining permission by God to attack the righteous (Job 1-2). Other times, it is God who lovingly decides to test the faith of His people (Hebrews 11-12).
Hebrews reminds us “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6). Likewise, the Apostle Peter wrote to suffering Christians, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12) and “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Suffering shouldn’t surprise me. God in His perfect power and wisdom is testing my faith so that it will lead to praise and glory and honor. It is for my good.
Making Sense of the Physical
While all I can see is this physical life, I know it is not all that exists. I very much live in the here and now, doing laundry, cooking meals and picking up children from school. But this will not last. I am being prepared for a more permanent life to come. And it is this spiritual understanding that guides my thoughts through days filled with sadness in this current life.
I believe God cares about how I physically feel. I know that He is the one who supplies all my needs, whether that is food, clothing or medical care (Matthew 6:25-34). That’s why I pray for God to sustain my life. I’m not afraid to ask Him for temporary things in this life, like raising my children and owning our own home. He wants me to go to Him about the things that are important to me (1 Peter 5:7).
My Biblical Framework
The Bible creates a framework for me to understand and process life. My theology (my beliefs about God and this world) were firmly in place before I was sick. I have not abandoned what I knew or added to it. But I do have a deeper, fuller grasp of the great truths I hold dear. God has proven Himself to be good and faithful to me through my affliction.
I understand that sin and suffering exist in this world and affect me and my family because of Adam’s first rebellious act against God (Genesis 3; Romans 5). While I don’t believe that my cancer is a result of a specific sin in my life, I do believe that sickness is a result of sin infecting the whole world. Brokenness marks all aspects of life. Jesus came as the Savior of the world to rescue sinners from the curse of sin and death. He offered His body as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins to God. And His resurrection from the dead proves it was accepted. Jesus has promised that all who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). He is going to resurrect all believers to a new life in a new and perfect Heaven and Earth (2 Peter 3).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:1-5).
The Bible tells me how things like cancer can exist. And why bad things can happen to good people. But it also provides hope for a future. And peace and grace for today. This is a strong and sturdy foundation to build a life upon. For those who put their trust in God will never be ashamed or disappointed.
The lyrics to the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” seem a fitting way to end this post. The firm foundation of God’s Word provides me with all the hope and stability I need to navigate the various paths of my heart and mind through life’s storms. My God truly supplies for my every need and that includes my mental health.
“How Firm a Foundation” (1787)
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled
Fear not, I am with thee; oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand
When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake