A dear family friend sent me Timothy Keller’s book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, and though I have been having a hard time concentrating enough to read, I am slowly making my way through its chapters. It’s interesting. Based on the title alone, I would have told you that there is no way I could relate to this book. But there’s something about it, something that somehow speaks to what my core beliefs are, but not necessarily beliefs I have consciously (or willingly) associated with God or the Church. I think organized religion is as dangerous as it is good, it is vulnerable to man and our interpretations, and has felt artificial and wrong through much of my adult life. I believe on the most basic level, we are meant to care for each other, to be our brother’s keeper, to be kind and generous and good. Sometimes organized religion loses sight of that.
But Keller says this, and it makes a lot of sense to me: “There is no way to know who you really are until you are tested. There is no way to really empathize and sympathize with other suffering people unless you have suffered yourself. There is no way to really learn how to trust in God until you are drowning.” How can anyone be kind and generous and good if they don’t truly understand what it is to be selfish or evil or simply aloof or uncaring? We can be grateful for what we have only when we recognize what it means to have nothing. And we can’t get to any of it without understanding pain and suffering.
When I think about his writing within the context of my life right now, within the framework of cancer, I think this: I can learn and grow, or I can be angry and bitter and miserable. I can walk away from this diagnosis stronger and more compassionate than I have ever been. Or, I can spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself.
The truth is, I could spend years trying to understand the teachings of God. Or I can simply oversimplify what I know in my heart to be true: Life is hard, but it is unquestionably good. Deep down, I know I have a choice. And I’m choosing to walk in the light.
I may struggle, I may fall, I may need my village to lift me back up… But I will not let my fear define me, or my pain destroy me. I can do this thing.
Three days out from surgery and that’s a great place to be. The I-can-do-this place. I know I’m not alone. And whether that comes from something greater than me, something god-like and spiritual, or whether it comes from the love and support of my family and friends is irrelevant. The fact is it’s there. I feel it.
And I am strong.