There is a saying in the Christian community that makes me angry, and hearing it again a few days ago has rekindled my dislike for it. Whoever first coined the phrase was probably well-intentioned, but its implications are murky at best—misleading at worst. With just three days remaining before my surgery, I’d like to address the fallacy in the too-often uttered statement. If you’ve been following my blog since January 2008, date of my first cancer diagnosis, you may have seen these thoughts before. I think they’re worth revisiting…
On the surface, it’s a wonderfully comforting statement. I’m a safety kind of girl, so I’m particularly tempted to believe it. I like to plot courses and plan outcomes and pull up on the handbrake and stomp out the bonfire and look both ways before crossing the street (EVEN when there’s a French bakery on the other side!). Safety is something I have craved and fostered in my life, much to the chagrin of some of my more spontaneous friends and students. So why wouldn’t I embrace the statement that I will never be safer than in the center of God’s will?
I won’t embrace it because it simply isn’t true. According to the dictionary, safety means “freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss.” Has God ever promised that to us? Has he ever hinted that life would be nothing but health and sunshine if we were to do His will? That we would avoid injury, affliction or death? Even if we were to sit squarely on the bullseye in the middle of His will, we wouldn’t be safe—at least not by the definition Webster’s gives for safety. Jim Elliott and his friends were slaughtered while in the center of God’s will. Corrie Ten Boom was brutalized in a concentration camp while in the center of God’s will. Countless Christian men and women, doing exactly what God had asked of them and in no way deserving of their fate, have suffered and died in abominable ways while in the center of God’s will. And on a very, very small scale compared to them, I have somehow managed to land myself in a third cancer scare and facing imminent surgery while convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am living smack-dab in the center of God’s will.
So no—I don’t agree that the “center of God’s will” is the safest place for anyone, because we live in a world where bad things happen to fairly good people. It’s a consequence of our fallenness and not in the least in contradiction with God’s goodness! BUT I believe that the center of God’s will, though not guaranteeing physical safety, does offer comfort, peace, fulfillment and purpose even in the most grievous of circumstances…and there is a different kind of safety in that, one that should not be confused with immunity from harm. This is the truth I cling to every day as I await my surgery. Am I scared of the worst-case scenario? Of course, I am. Does the specter of cancer #3 (still not ruled out) and horrible side-effects set my world a little off-kilter? Of course, it does.
Of course I’ll get a little nervous when I see them inserting IVs on Wednesday and preparing me for surgery. Of course I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying not to assume that a cough means metastasis or a dizzy spell means brain tumors. Of course! That’s all a consequence of having been slammed with awareness of my own mortality and picked up the pieces of my shattered health-illusions. But… I know that God is near. I know it because of the peace that has buoyed me so far, despite those late-night demons that rant their what-ifs.
I have never believed that my faith would spare from the natural process of life in a human body, in a depraved world. I learned at a very young age just how painful this world could be and have not allowed myself to assume that those early experiences were flukes that would not be repeated. There is pain in life. But what I know beyond a doubt is that though this life might throw a radical hysterectomy—and worse—at me, because God exists (mystery, contradictions, and all) and comforts in ways I can’t begin to describe, I will make it through this and through the days ahead with the certainty that I am not alone. Is the “safest” place for me in the center of God’s will? By Webster’s definition? Clearly not. But is the BEST place for me in the center of God’s will? Yes. Because life is painful and will remain painful. But if there can be fulfillment and purpose and comfort and peace despite the threat of cancer and the Tropical Troubles of life post-hysterectomy, isn’t that the very best I can hope for?
I have wondered over and over in the last few weeks how people make it through something like this without God. I would be a slobbering, wailing, panic-stricken mess were it not for my faith. Oh, there have been tears, for sure, and there will be more. But there’s also this rock-solid weight in my lungs that tells me that I can do this. My spirits are sobered but positive. My outlook is proactive and optimistic. My heart is sometimes melancholy, but more often so very grateful for things I hadn’t really taken the time to notice until now. I might not always feel this way–who knows when my humanity will overpower God’s promises in my mind. But for now, for now, I’m clinging to the Truth in the hope of storing up enough courage for whatever lies ahead. It’s been a scary but important journey so far. Unexpected, but so rich in discovery and certainty. And though I have no illusions that anyone living on this planet is truly “safe” from harm, I know that there is comfort in God’s will, regardless of the circumstances that threaten our serenity.