cancer and marriage

This year of 2009 has had some sad and unique features for me. I do not remember a year when I have known so many people struggling with cancer nor a year when I have known so many marriages under stress to the point of breaking apart.

On the cancer front, my wife Barby attended the funeral of her 40yr old work colleague yesterday. That has been one person of about a dozen. Younger and older. Near and far. It is hard to hold them all in my heart - but that is what I am trying to do. But cancer is a consequence of living in a fallen world stained by sin and evil and it should not seem so strange to us. But it does and it will. I find my mind traveling in two directions.

Firstly, as someone who has experienced much less suffering than many, I try to steel my mind with the right patterns of thinking about suffering. For example, will I be able to ask 'how?' much more than 'why?' if I am afflicted? 'How can I suffer well?', not 'why is this suffering happening to me?' is the appropriate question to ask. Maybe I will be able to do so. Maybe I won't.

Secondly, is there anything that encourages and strengthens my faith more than watching people and walking with people who suffer well? I doubt it. The joy which seems to emerge? The hope? The endurance? The confidence? The other-centeredness? It is so often faith's finest hour. The very things that drive the unbeliever further away from God are the very things which cause the believer to lean harder on God. It is as odd as it is remarkable.

On the marriage front, I fear that within Christian circles there is a lot of fuzzy thinking which leads to a lot of fussy behaviour. Let me explain.

The thinking is fuzzy. The attitudes of Christians towards things like beauty and love, intimacy and sex, self and commitment... It has become confused. We are no different from anyone else on these subjects. But gee - when the ratio of time spent in racy novels, TV serials, the lyrics of songs, and movies compared with the time spent in the Word of God so often reaches 100:1 for many followers of Jesus, is it really that surprising? What else can we expect? Afterall we become what we soak in.

This fuzzy thinking leads on to fussy behaviour.

On the one hand there are Christians who are too fussy about the wrong things. Someone's appearance. Someone's income. Someone's personality. And the list goes on ... these silly irrelevancies actually prevent quality Christian marriages taking place.

On the other hand there are Christians who are not fussy enough about the right things. Someone's character. Someone's consecration. Someone's purpose ("Love does not consist in gazing at each other - sorry, Twilight fans! - but in looking outward together in the same direction").

I've done a few pre-marriage sessions in my time. Nowhere do couples need to be de-programmed more than in the area of intimacy. The 100:1 error tends to have them convinced that sex initiates and sustains intimacy. It doesn't. The best and most enduring intimacy comes as it is nurtured first as a social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional closeness able to be experienced by those who are celibate too - remember?! Then for those who marry - mutually exclusive and permanent in its intention - sex is a celebration of that intimacy in the way God designed.

Our world disciples us to be self-absorbed - "people are pickled in themselves" (Bono). Well - maybe too many Christian marriages are pickled. They need a dose of "let us get lost in something bigger than ourselves", allowing their marriage to become missional as they offer it to Jesus as well.


nice chatting


Paul

Comments

georgenz said…
Having lost my sister this year to cancer at the age of 56 after a long illness, finding God in the equation can be pretty hard, excluding God from the equation reduces hope to dust.
jared said…
I find the timing of your thoughts on cancer and suffering intriguing, in as much as I have just preached on that exact thing on Sunday just been. It was actually the 5th time I have delivered that message in the last few months. I am a 28 year old medical student, recently married, who was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma of the bowel late last year. I start my final round of chemotherapy tomorrow morning. I have a 5 year survival of about 40%.

My philosophy has been one of "how" can I honour God with my situation, rather one of "why" is this happening to me. It has been incredibly releasing to actually use my situation (that many consider unfortunate) to encourage other Christians in their faith. I in fact don't see my predicament as a curse so much as an opportunity to honour God. My life is His, and as such, I'm okay with the fact that I might not be around in 5 years time (although I would prefer another 50) :-). If I only live for another 5 years, there will be two things in my life that I will be gutted about. 1 - That I will leave my wife a widow, and 2- That I will not have the opportunity to live out God's calling that I believe is on my life (namely 3rd world medicine).

The result of this approach means that I am (currently) at peace with God, and my place in His plan. The future is unknown, but I know God holds it in His hand regardless of the outcome.

That is more or less what I have been sharing to others about over the last 6 months of my diagnosis.
Reetz said…
I also have never been more exposed to cancer in people until this year. I work in a daycare, and two of our dads have cancer, one has just been diagnosed with leukemia, a dad of 6, another is only in his early 30's, he was in remission, but it has returned, he has 4kids, under 10. Both beautiful chrisitan familes.

I have a condition where the likeliness of me getting cancer is bit higher than others. Even before I knew that though, I always had a sneaking feeling that I would be diagnosed with cancer real young, I might not, I might live till a haggity old woman in her rocking chair at 89, but however I leave this place, it doesn't scare me, not sure why, just have suuuch a peace about it, looking forward to meeting my poppa, (and Elvis, if what they say is TRUE that he gave his heart to the lord days before dying...one can dream,ha), seeing my uncle again, meeting Jesus and the angels, and majority of the ones I love, I'll see up there again real soon anyway, the 'blink of an eye' i'm sure its described somewhere. :)

But I have also been signed up to a couple of raw eating websites - and you wouldnt' believe the amount of people that have been healed through raw eating, that I have been interacting with through chat and emails. People who have refused to have chemo, and just change their diets to all raw - I dunno, I'm still learning, not saying it works for everyone, but it's hard to disreguard it all together when you see full on proof and testimonies of it working... I do wander about what Jesus thinks of that kinda thing, he's provided us with all this natural amazing nutritious food, but then also blessed people who are mainstream dr's and the tools they have...how do we know what channel he favours, if any....both sides could be debated I guess. I guess I'm abit of a fan of 'let food be thy medicine' tis all.

Eeeek, and rate of divorce these days just absoloutely freaks me out...that, cancer is everywhere, and another tragic topic, 18,000 abortions each year, in NZ alone....defintely the result of a fallen world like you said Paul. :(
Reetz said…
I think the reason why I have an odd peace about cancer too, is that when I go to heaven, I get a new set of legs, so the mistakes the dr's made in surgery will be goneeee, and the freedom I feel in even imagining that is beyond words - actually.

I love what Georgenz wrote 'finding God in the equation can be pretty hard, excluding God from the equation reduces hope to dust.'

A song which helps me is 'All I need' by Shawn McDonald....just repeating those words to myself 'All.I.Need...ALLLL I need, is your (gods) love', everything else is a bonus. helps sometimes when you try to find God in a situation....
Paul said…
Some very precious reflections here. Thanks people. Wisdom in each one...

(and sorry for my delay in responding - as I hopped on a plane to Hong Kong where I currently am).
Miriam J said…
Hiya Paul - just sent you a message on facebook about this post - a bit belated, but just so you know!