Giving Thanks-Even with Cancer
As I prepare to enjoy thanksgiving with family and friends, I am thinking about two of the elders in our congregation who are battling cancer. I know both of them well, and they are both models of gratitude. Lindel is old enough to be my dad and over the past 13 years I have served with him in many leadership capacities at Calvary Church. More than once he has been there for me – kicking me under the table at a leadership meeting when he knew I was about to open my pie hole at the wrong time. He has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me when we have had to make difficult and unpopular decisions as spiritual leaders. He’s solid. I was in the room with him when his wife died of cancer last Christmas. Now he is battling cancer – fighting for his own life – and I am watching him respond to God’s sovereign will for his life with trust and gratitude. This Sunday I embraced him warmly and he said (with tear-filled eyes) – “I am so thankful for God’s goodness to me.” Wow!
My good friend Brent – also an elder in our congregation – is in his early 40s. He was diagnosed with cancer in June. He is an otherwise healthy athletic-type (the tennis champion at Caius College Cambridge) who holds a PhD from Cambridge – a polymath who has travelled and lived in more than 70 countries around the world and speaks several languages fluently. Brent’s intimate friendship over the last eight years has been a constant source of encouragement to me. I almost never hear a negative word uttered from his lips, and during his battle with cancer I have never once heard him complain about what God has allowed into his life. He laughs, and he makes me laugh. His witty one-liners and his fondness for British intellectual humor keep me in stitches. He joked with our congregation this summer during his chemo (yes – he preached with cancer) that he was tempted to pull out his hair during one of his sermons to express frustration over spiritual apathy. (See Ezra 9:3 – a prophet actually did this.) The only thing that stopped him was he realized he would not be able to repeat the illustration during the second service! Even with cancer – he laughs and thankfully enjoys the simple pleasures God affords him in this life. When he was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago he told me, “Vicar, I’m fine with whatever God decides to do with me. If he gives me five more months or fifty more years--I trust Him.” (We are both praying for fifty more years!)
How can we give thanks even in cancer? How can we give thanks when life isn’t quite perfect? It may not be cancer for you. But it is something. It always is. What are you living with? Financial challenges, marriage difficulties, complex family issues, a son or daughter that is struggling with life, the loss of a job or business, the death of a family member or friend, personal battles with sin, unfulfilled (or shattered) dreams? If you are reading this, I know you can relate. It is always something – isn’t it? I want to break this to you gently in case you don’t already know: In this world -- it will always be something.
So what do we do? Here is what I have learned from the Scriptures and from people like Lindel and Brent. We receive with thanks every good thing God gives us today, while we look forward with thanks (even as we groan, see Romans 8:22) for the day of complete restoration when He makes everything new (Revelation 21)! This is how we can give thanks, even with cancer.
There is so much to be thankful for every single day. This is something we could learn from Oprah who has challenged her viewers to keep a daily “gratitude journal.” (Ok – Oprah does get some things right!) Start the day with praise. Give thanks for that cup of coffee in the morning when you smell it – a warm sweater – the embrace of a friend – an improving book – a good meal – the list goes on... And then, when you are reminded that your life is not perfect and that you, like Lindel and Brent and all of us, have been touched by the fall and that we will all die someday – give thanks that the groaning will someday be over. This is how we can obey the biblical command to “give thanks for EVERYTHING.” Lindel and Brent, I am grateful to God for both of you and your example to us!
When you are enjoying pleasure, give thanks for God’s present goodness. And when you are reminded that all is not as it should be, give thanks for God’s future promises that will be yours. As C. S. Lewis reminds us: “If I find in myself desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for this world (as it now exists).” As I give thanks today, I am also yearning with all of you for the “long tomorrow.” I highly recommend to you Brooke Fraser’s “C. S. Lewis Song.”