How does one fight for life but not cling to it?
I came to this question in conversation with my wife a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been mulling it since. On the one hand, we are each given but a single go at life in the bodies we know, but on the other hand, for those who believe Scripture to be God’s word, we must heed Christ when he said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39, NLT). What does he mean by giving up our lives?
I have what I think is an important CT scan tomorrow. We should learn whether the current treatment remains effective against my cancer. I’m as curious about how I will feel while we wait for the doctor to meet with us as I am with the results. Will I be anxious or at peace? I’ve learned by now that my personal preference has little bearing.
I can’t help but look back at the last five years, the joy and sorrow. Five years with cancer. Five years of survival. Five years of both humble and bold prayer to a God that maintains His own counsel. Five years of coming to terms with realities that differ from expectations. Five blessed years with my family. Five years.
We’re told that it is critical to stay positive under duress, for our bodies respond to our mental state physiologically. I’m told to not worry about dying because it might just hasten that outcome. Not wanting my body to succumb to cancer, I never cease believing that one day I might be declared cancer-free, but every negative result, every new ache, every treatment seems a setback to that goal.
I thought about Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what it meant to cling to life. He implored his Heavenly Father, “Take this cup from me,” referring to his looming crucifixion. But He submitted to God, continuing, presumably in despair, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). He truly gave up his life for God in his death. And the result? Three days later he terrified Mary Magdelene by escaping the tomb with a resurrected life.
So I asked my wife if it would be better if I just died already.
tsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss (radio static)
It probably wasn’t fair to drop this one on her in the hallway of the clinic as we were shuttled from one medical station to another. She misunderstood me.
I meant Biblical death, the kind that Paul talks about often, none more succinctly than in Colossians 3:3, where he writes, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Dead already, every day would indeed be acknowledged as a true blessing. No test result would surprise. There would be peace and rest.
Like so much of Scripture, verses can be read but not comprehended; in God’s economy, His mysteries are revealed at the time of His choosing. I’m only now grasping the enormity of what Christ is asking for when he tells me to give up my life for him. As my mortal flesh breaks and seemingly rots from within, I sense the many aspects of “normal” life that I’m being denied or certainly will be if the disease worsens, and the treatments that stabilize it also hamper my quality of life. It makes me angry. It makes me want to fight. I don’t want to concede anything. I think I even cling to the identity created by the pain I endure because it creates an identity, even if this worsens matters by fostering alienation.
I seem to think my life is mine and not the Lord’s.
My wife has a small piece of paper taped to her bathroom mirror with the handwritten words of Paul in Romans 5:3-5. I’ve read them hundreds of times.
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This week we had the main floor of our house repainted, so we removed the mirrors from our bathroom wall and stored them in the basement. Last night, I rehung them, prompting me to reread the words. Suffering leads to perseverance which leads to character. This line of reason seems logical, even from a worldly perspective. It’s difficult to question the character-building potential of perseverance through affliction, to resist the urge to turn bitter and cynical, to not give up. But character to hope? Hope in what? That the suffering will end?
No. It isn’t enough.
It’s natural to cling to life, but as I think about it, life itself isn’t enough for some trials; the pain may just be too great. Don’t get me wrong, I want more than anything to watch my children grow into adulthood and to accompany my wife into old age, but if character is the ultimate reward for perseverance through affliction, I’m afraid exhaustion will eventually defeat me. But the believer’s hope, this is something to cling to. On the cross, Christ demonstrated the ultimate act of giving one’s life to God, and the empty tomb showed us the true reward, resurrected bodies. So I don’t fight for life to simply conquer this present suffering, I fight that I might display the character of Christ in a broken world. It is His character, not mine, that produces the hope that will not disappoint, because this hope trusts that God really is a good and loving father and that one day the time of our suffering will indeed come to a dramatic and glorious end.
We’d appreciate your prayers for my CT scan and treatment tomorrow.