A single word feels as though it has shattered every aspect of my life in just one moment: CANCER. I couldn’t register it as the Dr. reported the news in a solemn voice over the phone just as I was on my way out the door to pick up my kids from school. I collapsed onto the chair beside me, heart racing, mind reeling. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, Oh please dear God, this can’t be happening.
You see, I have done everything right. I am “that Mom” who is always counting grams of sugar and organic produce fills my shopping cart most weeks. I spend way too much on chemical free toiletry items and my favorite part of the day is my 3 mile run in the mornings. I’ve done everything God has asked of me up to this point from a faith standpoint, even some really difficult things like missions and adoption. I have yet to celebrate my 40th Birthday. How could this be happening to me? Where is God my Father in this shattered mess that is suddenly now my life?
I was scheduled to write this blog post months ago, back when life was blissfully perfect in a lot of ways. I knew the theme was ‘difficult emotions’ but I had no idea the depth of the dark emotions I would be feeling as I sit here with a blank stare, attempting to write this post.
Over the past few weeks I have experienced a surge of emotions I have never felt before. I’ve felt anguish, despair, deep sadness, intense anger, the bitterness of betrayal, denial, disbelief, shock, grief, confusion, hopelessness, and terror. I have felt all of the above and then some often overlapping and with great intensity. Sometimes I can’t even breathe.
It’s hard to know what to do with big emotions. It’s tempting to stuff them and lie through gritted teeth that I am fine, to deem them as unhelpful and force myself onto hope. Somehow, that seems like the Christian/American way. Perhaps though, there is a better way than simply writing off our emotions as unhelpful. Maybe God can use our emotions to move us towards healing?
God doesn’t allow emotions to confuse and over dramatize things but rather to be noticed, acknowledged, and used to direct us eventually back to truth. No emotion you are experiencing is too much for Him or will come as a surprise to Him. I am learning He is there, waiting for true honest dialogue about whatever it is we are going through. Even if at times the pain is so deep you come before him with no words at all, only with groans.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26).
Other times, we are able to put into words what we are feeling. This is called lament which is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow and the Bible is FULL of examples. Check out Psalms or Lamentations just to name a few. Lament is a big part of the process when it comes to big emotions. For me in the beginning stages of cancer, writing it all down and reading it back outloud to God in a prayer has been healing. I’ve also appreciated reading and claiming some of the Psalms as my own before the Lord.
Hear my prayer, Lord, let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly (Psalm 102: 1-2).
At times in this process for me, I have been so overwhelmed with emotion that I have allowed other’s faith to carry my own. When I have had no words to pray, they have prayed over me. When I have felt too betrayed to open God’s Word, they have used it to comfort and remind me of truth. When all I can do is weep, they have simply been present. Just as Moses needed his friends to physically hold up his arms to fulfill God’s plan in Exodus 17, we also need to allow others to hold us up when we can’t do it ourselves.
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword (Exodus 17:10-13).
I don’t know what this next year will hold for me and my family as we start down this long road of treatment or how intense the emotions will become along the way. I only hope to be honest with myself, with others, and with my God who is holding me close, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
A Breath Prayer For When It’s Too Much:
“God, this is too big for me. Stay with me in the now.” (on the inhale)
“Keep me from living beyond the grace of this moment.” (on the exhale)