“For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Phil 1:21
At 22, when cancer invaded my body for the first time, I completely understood what Paul meant in this verse. Not only was my cancer rare, to the point where doctors had never heard of it before, but the doctors had to guess about the best way to treat it. They then went on to tell me if the cancer ever returned, I could only have 2 months left to live.
My response was a fairly nonchalant: “Okay! Let’s see what God wants to do through this!”
This response left some of those around me thinking I did not understand cancer, did not understand death, and was living deeply in that land of D.E.N.I.A.L. However, I got it. I knew what this meant. I was watching my stepfather, who at the time had no Hope, and no Jesus dying of cancer. (Ask me sometime about how he came to Jesus… it will rock your world.)
And, while I do not say this lightly, I really didn’t care that I had cancer.
Now, let me explain this. I cared in the fact that I went to all my appointments, took care of myself, exercised (I was still playing collegiate volleyball), and agreed to treatment. However, the news of having cancer didn’t bother me. I had this total surrender and faith in Christ that enabled me to understand Phil 1:21 in a way that had I not been exactly where I was in life, I may not have understood this verse as clearly.
At the time of this diagnosis, I was unmarried, did not have any children, and didn’t really have anyone counting on me in life. My life was solely about Jesus, as I had no other major life obligations. Sure, if I died, my death would highly impact my family and perhaps a few close friends; but if Heaven and Jesus were really as cool as I read about, why would I NOT want to go there? Would I not trade my shell of a body, now invaded with cancer, for a Heavenly body that would never break down? My family and friends loved Jesus… my death would be a “see you later”, not a forever goodbye. This was my perspective.
And, to tell you the truth, having this attitude and perspective freaked a few people out! Some people around me just did not get it, and it frustrated them. They would try and explain the cancer in other terms that might “make it easier for me to understand”, but I was already there… I got it, I just saw it differently. And this even made a few people angry. I went through much of my first bout of cancer feeling very misunderstood, and confused why others couldn’t understand my perspective; not that I wanted to die, but to die was gain!
Now that I am 13 years removed (almost to the date of that first diagnosis), I am now a parent who has dealt with the death of a daughter. And, I do see the other side of this perspective a bit more. My life circumstances have dramatically changed. If the roles were reversed and it were now my other daughter diagnosed with cancer, I’d be devastated. But then, if she told me she was okay dying, I’d probably say, “You might be okay with it, but I am not ready for you to go!” While the reality of how amazing Heaven is, what I understood about Paul’s message, and the thrill of being with Jesus has not changed, my own selfishness has now gotten in the way…
“If it’s all the same to you God, I can serve you here for a loooooooong time, with my husband whom I want to adore and cherish, for a loooooooong time, and my children whom I love and want to serve here with, for a loooooooong time!” Okay God?
Perhaps you are the daughter today feeling misunderstood. Or, maybe you are the spouse, parent, or best friend, feeling frustrated by your loved ones response. If this is you today, the best encouragement I can offer, is to talk it out. Be as open and vulnerable with each other as possible. What emotions are you feeling? Why are you feeling them? What makes you feel frustrated? Talk through the depth and the heart of the issues, so as not to mask or bandaid one displaced feeling for another.
Perhaps, you will find you can go from “I’m frustrated because I don’t feel like you are taking this seriously.” to “I’m terrified of losing you!” That last part is the heart…
Be real. Be raw. Be willing to listen. Be willing to accept a different perspective, even if you just don’t get it!
Check back tomorrow for my own story of how this original perspective drastically changed when I was diagnosed with cancer the second time, and how I came back around the third time.
Q. Do you have a similar story? Have you ever struggled through a trial feeling misunderstood because of your perspective of death?
*Photo courtesy of JakoJellema (7j.nl) via flickr.