Since my cancer diagnosis a year ago my husband’s barber, Nick, has given him two pieces of advice.
“You tell Dona like I told my wife.You stay alive, you stay healthy, you stay upbeat! Not just for yourself, not just for the people who love you,but for the peoplewho hate you. When they see you walking down the sidewalk, they say, ‘thatwoman still around?!’And when they see youlook-in goodit will give them a clinch in the gut.”
“Trust God, and then your doctors.”
Although left speechless after hearing the first bit of advice I appreciated the second. But how can I trust God for my well-being and trust doctors at the same time for my cure? I think about this all the time. I say that I trust God but yet I find myself hanging on every word of a medical provider as if I’m hearing from ancient oracles pronouncing my destiny. I don’t like the feeling of smallness that happens when I talk to a provider at the cancer institute. The little girl inside me is saying, “Please be nice to me because you are bigger and I am small right now so you can hurt or help me.” It’s not quite that pathetic but exaggeration serves the point. I defer to medical providers as if they hold the balance of my life in their hands. But this flies in the face of everything I believe about who truly holds my fate in His hands.
I have said all these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble: but take heart! I have overcome the world. (Jesus quoted in John 16:33)
I am not disabusing modern medicine in light of faith. I am grateful for the medical advances in the care of those with illnesses. I thank God for those who use their intelligence, ingenuity and compassion to develop treatments and cures for the myriad of diseases that plague humanity.
But what is the role of God in a person’s life when the material world offers so many empirical, concrete procedures and assurances?
My husband said that we treat science as God, technology as the Holy Spirit, and I’ll complete this false trinity by noting that the mental health profession is seen as Christ.
“Trust God first and then trust the doctors.” But as a person who worships the Creator of the material world rather than the material world itself, how is this to look? How is this played out in a way that moves me away from spiritual platitudes to words that reflect my deepest convictions and hope? Well, for starters I must believe that God exists and that He can be trusted. I don’t get there easily and I don’t get there by hard work. I get there by being inspired, or more to the point, something is opened up to me and I enter in. At the same time there is work, some soul work, involving curiosity and study. For God knows that this world is not going to hand God’s trust to me on a platter.
Ultimately, there will come a point where the pursuing, studying, questioning and reflecting demand a leap of faith. But it won’t be a blind leap. It will be a wide eyed here I go, for better for worse, for richer or poorer kind of leap. Do these words remind me of another leap? Yes, belief in God is like the decision to say ‘I do’ at the altar of marriage - not blind but certainly not a 100 percent certain. But there is enough information, time, dialogue and togetherness invested to make the leap seem more than reasonable – almost compulsive or desperate! It is an I-have-to-have-this-person-in-my-life kind of leap.
So what is it to trust in God? It’s knowing we belong together; pure and simple. He is mine and I am his, no matter what happens. Medical science and its allies are created to lighten a burden but we are not on intimate terms. I am not their “darling” but I am God’s and so it goes for each one of us that trust Him.
Written By: dona eley
Dona Carsia Eley is a mental health clinician who works in Juneau, Alaska. When not in Alaska, Dona volunteers mental health services in Buffalo, NY as well as for a charity that serves in West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
She has survived cancer (finished treatment in October 2014) and 36 years of marriage to David (the latter has actually been quite wonderful). Spending lots of time on planes shuttling between family, Alaska and the Middle East provides much time for musing and writing. You can find her on the web at http://www.donaeley.wordpress.com