When you’re battling cancer, you hear a lot of advice and commentary. Most of this is not coming from doctors, and I have to hope that my health team is doing their best to prolong my life, provide me with the best quality of life possible, and inform me of available options when the time is appropriate.
But there’s a theory out there that the medical community ultimately doesn’t want to cure people of cancer because the treatment of patients is so lucrative. I find this to be dark and difficult to believe. But there are certainly many, many clinics around the world setup to administer chemotherapy. And if cures begin proliferating, these centers would have to downsize or close. But, dear Lord, that would be glorious.
I can’t help but think of another conspiracy, one that really isn’t talked about, especially among believers. It is the conspiracy that God really isn’t involved in our lives and that the Holy Spirit is certainly not at work to transform us. Sunday after Sunday, those of us who claim to follow Christ attend church services. Singing, praying, worshipping, even taking communion, all while carrying burdens that we pray would be lifted or that we’d be strengthened to bear. But how many of us feel stuck? Going through the motions? No change has occurred. Secretly we close our hearts, stop imagining a fulfilling future, and just be. Effectively hopeless.
As I sit in this clinic, called the “living” room, receiving toxic chemicals meant to kill cancer, I glance periodically at the cow bells sitting on the counter at the nurse’s station. There’s supposed to be hope there. If your treatment schedule has an endpoint or you receive a series of scans showing no signs of cancer, you can pick up the bell and ring it. Not only is this cathartic for the individual, but it is also meant to be an encouragement to patients in the room still fighting. That there’s hope.
I’ve seen people ring the bell, and I confess to feeling skeptical. Though happy and hopeful for the person ringing it, I’m hesitant to believe that I can one day be free of this disease.
I’ve even rung the bell. Twice. The first was back in 2013 after finishing my first round of chemo. I can tell you that I definitely shook that bell halfheartedly. And last summer, after finishing 6 weeks of radiation at MD Anderson in Houston, I rang the bell with vigor. Anger. Wanting cancer to die.
Unfortunately, in both cases, I’ve found myself back in the clinic receiving chemo, continuing to fight. Was I ringing the bell in vain?
These bell-ringing events have reinforced the conspiracy. Not the one that says the medical field really doesn’t want to cure cancer, but the one that says the gospel is not what it promises. That I should put my hope in the things of this world, the things I can see and touch–even good things, like cancer drugs. Ultimately, that the message we hear on Sundays is not about the source of life but merely good motivation for the new week. The solutions to our problems are found elsewhere.
But rather than hoping for quick fixes or just resignedly carrying-on, seeing heaven as the consolation prize for enduring a life of suffering, I need to remember and ring often the bell that celebrates the good work that God has done in me today.
I woke up yesterday feeling angry. Ill-prepared to worship God, not wanting to listen to any “good news”. But I went for a walk and just prayed. I turned my anger over to the Lord. He brought me the peace inside I sought but, also, He inspired me to find a way to love someone a bit more that day. To do whatever I did to His glory. In my mind, I rang a bell. The day then seemed to have intensity and purpose. The worship service felt alive. A time to ring the bell. And that afternoon, I had a time of fellowship with some dear friends. Though there was heaviness to this time, I left encouraged. Renewed. A time to ring the bell. That evening, a large group gathered for dinner to say goodbye to friends who were moving away. Bittersweet, but a time to ring the bell. And the last waking act of my day was to hear my wife praying for us as we lay in bed. A time to ring the bell.
We’ve got to stop living life like we’re trudging through some wilderness with no direction hoping to find freedom. And ourselves. We have to recognize the small moments, the opportunities, where God continues to heal our hearts as we live out this life together. We’ve got to live life in the moment, as if a bell is always in our hands, waiting to be rung as we doggedly refuse to accept the conspiracy that there really is no hope and give our lives over to God that we may feel the peace He provides in the reassurance that through his son we are already cured of our brokenness. Imagine the clamor of bells ringing together when a herald proclaims that God’s work of redemption is complete.
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter: 6-7, NLT)