In bracing for the coming storm, I can tell you right now that I really don’t want to have to “go it alone.” I find myself reaching out to others, seeking any level of support and camaraderie—like, “all hands on deck!” I’m reminded of King Solomon’s wise counsel, when he said:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For, if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)
I’m finding that one of the hardest things about facing cancer or, I suppose, any potentially life-threatening illness, serious hardship, trial, or tribulation in life, is finding someone, anyone, who will talk with you on something more than just a superficial level. But, for some reason, it’s hard to get beyond logistics, statistics, medical reports, or just general surface talk. It’s hard to discuss feelings and emotions; even with those who are near and dear. It’s hard to share those deeper matters of the heart—fear, loneliness, worry—or to talk about the changes going on within me and, I know, within those closest to me. I think there are several reasons for this.
First of all, I feel the need to protect those closest to me. They, like me, are standing so close to the “dragon” that I fear for them more than for myself. Why expose them to any more negative emotions than necessary? We all seem happier, at least outwardly, when we “keep it light” and don’t probe too deeply. I know that, perhaps, this is not the healthiest approach for any of us. I know that not only me, but also some of those closest to me, long to tear down those protective walls and share our feelings heart-to-heart. But I’ve also come to understand the reality of Jeff Tomczek’s (2012) observations when he says:
The people that love you will be just as scared as you are. Probably more. They will be worrying even when they are smiling. They will assume you are in more pain than you are. They will be thinking about you dying and preparing for life without you. They will go through a process that you will never understand just like they will never understand the process you are going through. (para. 4)
I know I need to have more faith in God’s ability to strengthen and protect each of our hearts; and I pray that He grants me the wisdom and grace to share what should be shared with those who love me most in this world.
Second, when it comes to people with whom I am, perhaps, not quite so intimate, it’s very difficult to “trust” because I feel so vulnerable—emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People, even with the kindest of intentions, say some of the goofiest and self-absorbed things. When they do, the trust factor, at least as far as my being able to confide in them, goes right out the window. I get the impression that, ultimately, it’s really just all about them and their agenda.
There have already been moments when I’ve felt my emotional and physical energy—and I’m finding the two becoming ever more inextricably connected—being sapped by specific, little things people have said and done. Sometimes the world seems fraught with vampires—people who just seem to suck the emotional energy right of me—yikes!
But please understand, I know it’s not just them; it’s me! Bracing for the coming storm has made me somewhat hypersensitive. So, I don’t trust myself to respond appropriately to other people’s words or behavior. I find myself having to fight down certain emotions, button my lips, or stop my fingers from typing some overly emotional reply. Again, healthy or not, it just seems easier to “internalize” it all and say little or nothing, rather than to risk hurting someone’s feelings.
As for seeking professional counseling, as some who have walked this trail ahead of me advocate, and even my medical doctors have encouraged, maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time coming to terms with having to pay somebody to let me talk to them – ha! I know, I know, call me “old fashioned,” but I’m an old guy who comes from a long line of farmers, ranchers, tradesmen, and tough, independent types who have a hard enough time just talking with family and friends about the hardships we encounter in life; let alone some complete stranger who needs to be paid to listen. Somehow, that just doesn’t quite fit this old cowboy’s upbringing.
What does fit my global paradigm, however, is God’s wisdom manifested in that beautiful organization we call “the church”—the “body of Christ,” “the household of God,” the “kingdom of God among men.” The Apostle Paul says:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many… (I Corinthians 12:12-14, NASB)
Then, in describing how that one spiritual body—the church—functions, he compares it to our physical bodies, saying:
But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (I Corinthians 12:24-26, NASB)
I think that’s a really beautiful concept; though, perhaps, some of you are thinking it’s a bit “Pollyannaish” in today’s world. And I do have to admit that, in more than thirty years of ministry, I’ve rarely seen a church actually function in a manner wherein all the members had “the same care for one another.” Yet, the passage still speaks to me of the importance of the “priesthood of every believer,” as we seek to mutually minister one to another. In its purest and simplest form, this is “community” taken to a whole new level—both physically and spiritually.
I long for this kind of community in my life. This is a Biblical picture of the community of Christ on earth, God’s forever family; sharing life, sharing love, praising God in unison, and being devoted to one another in brotherly love. I feel like, if I had that, I might be better able to find out who it is that God has selected to “minister to the minister” – ha!
So why, on this week when I’m about to face my first—and, prayerfully, my only—major surgery, do I feel so incredibly lonely as we gather together for our Sunday morning worship? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful, and even inspired, by the small group of friends who surround me today, standing hand-in-hand to pray with me and for me. But my heart is panged by the absence of particular faces; faces of people who are dear to me and who, my heart says, should be here, but aren’t.
So yeah, it makes me kind of lonely; but only on a social-emotional level, I guess; because, on a spiritual level, I’ve never felt more complete, fulfilled, satisfied, or whole. I know that I will face the upcoming surgery in a few days with courage and confidence. My prayer time with God is awesome, His word is ever sweeter to my taste, and I’m becoming more enraptured with my Jesus each day. How does one begin to explain what it feels like to finally “let go” of certain dreams, goals, and ambitions so closely allied with this carnal world and to choose, instead, to focus on those spiritual aspects of an abundant life with Christ?
But, still, I can’t help but feel a little sad today. I know there are a lot of precious people “out there” who love me and I’m grateful for every expression of love and support they’ve managed to send my way—I need them! But, yeah, today, as I brace myself for the approaching stormy squalls coming my way, I’m feeling kind of lonely; not for corporate church, not for some denominational organization, not for all the doctrine and dogma that some people insist on assigning to organized religion; but just for the warmth, the refuge, the safe harbor of God’s forever family.