The king asked me, “Why do you seem sad? Since you aren’t sick, you must have a broken heart! I was very afraid. Nehemiah 2:2
I ran into a lady yesterday who battles cancer. But she wasn’t downcast. On the contrary, she was all smiles. Positive. Hopeful. I’ve also noted several postings on Facebook recently requesting prayer. Yes, the “C” word again. Cancer. Amazingly, though, the common thread amongst these posts is hope. Expectation. And the good to come.
And then, of course, there’s someone special to me. A woman I’ve known for almost twenty years now. Her battle is the same. Cancer. That’s her fight. I think about her often. Just about every time I post a blog, in fact. Because like her, my focus is on internal medicine. And healing. But there’s one major difference… my illness is sickness of heart whereas hers is a disease that threatens to overtake her body. We both need to heal. Just differently. And so with every post, I think about how greatly she suffers. And how my trivial matters pale in comparison to what she endures daily.
Her difficulty is marked in my journal. July 21. “She suffers greatly.” Funny thing is you’d never, ever know it though. Because two days after this entry I visited her in the hospital and thought she seemed to be faring well. However when the nurse asked, her pain scale number proved otherwise. But I hadn’t a clue. Other than a number indicator, there was no evidence. Which puts me in mind of the lady I saw yesterday and her smiles. Her positive demeanor. Hopeful expectation of better days to come…
There is an occasion for everything and a time for every activity under heaven… a time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1,7
I’ll tell you the truth, I suffer from foot in mouth disease. If there’s a pause in the conversation, I feel compelled to fill the lull with words. And unfortunately, anything will do. Whatever comes to mind usually makes its to my mouth. Utterance before I can bite my tongue. But you know, I’m coming to understand that sometimes silence is preferable to sound. And there are moments when I should simply bite my tongue. Perhaps until it bleeds if necessary. Because truth is words are not always the best course of action.
Because here it is. I believe one of the worst things we can do to someone who suffers is offer careless words. Empty or false ones. Or worse yet, hopeless ones. Or how about walking on eggshells? Treating someone as if they may break. As if they’re fragile. Speaking to them in a manner that’s condescending. Patting them down like they’re children. And today, after viewing a video of a random woman who fights cancer daily, I worry I’ve been guilty of this very thing. Spouting out something to fill a void. The uncomfortable silence that can sometimes surround the “C” word. Perhaps a voiced encouragement was actually discouragement instead.
Then Job answered: I have heard many things like these. You are all miserable comforters. Is there no end to your empty words? What provokes you that you continue testifying? If you were in my place I could also talk like you. I could string words together against you and shake my head at you, but I wouldn’t. I would encourage you with my mouth, and the consolation from my lips would bring relief. Job 16:2-5
People who suffer greatly have a lot to teach people like me. Like the woman I encountered yesterday morning. So inspiring. She talked of celebrating life. And dancing at a wedding. And a dear friend of mine who lost both her parents way too soon, and who was once at death’s door herself, speaks of this often. She wants to enjoy the life she’s been given. She said someone who has it too good doesn’t appreciate what they have. They can’t even recognize the good life when it’s staring them in the face.
And then there’s my loved one. She’s the one I thought of this morning after watching a video about cancer. See, she told me in July she’s up for the fight. And I believe she really is. Because I swear she’s the strongest woman I know. She’s thankful for each new day. And she’s hopeful for the days to come. Yes, this woman knows better than anyone what the good life really is. I think that’s what “C” word taught her. Cancer.
So my thought today is… what can I possibly say to this woman? My loved one. In light of what life has taught her already, what wisdom can I possibly provide? What feeble words can I offer? In truth, I should just hold my tongue. Because I should be the one listening. To her. To what she says out loud and to what she keeps inside. Because her very life speaks loudly. Yes, it’s true the road she’s traveled has been marked with suffering. But it’s made her wise. So wise. See, she knows very well what the good life is. And most importantly, she embraces it with both arms. It’s those fighting arms of hers. They don’t release their grip. She holds on and looks to better days. To the good life.
This is what my loved one teaches me. Today, she inspires me to close my mouth and open my eyes instead. Because in the silence, I see the truth that stares me in the face. And I recognize it’s the good life I’m looking at. It’s what I choose to embrace today.
Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 2:12-13