07 January, 2017

Food for thought

Usually I share my own words here, but I've come across some good words of others in the last 24 hours that I want to share.

First is musings from the hospital bed of our mission's Japan director. He's battling two kinds of blood cancer. The post is pretty self-explanatory and very insightful.
Life in Limbo by David Ferguson
Most of us probably live our lives with a reasonable degree of predictability. There is routine. We make plans and generally they come to pass. We might even set goals and seek to fulfil them. Tomorrow will come, next week will come and while we know that things can change suddenly, generally life moves on with some measure of certainty. 
What happens though when that certainty is taken away? What if you don't know what's going to happen? What if there are questions but no answers - or at least no answers that are very definitive? Not easy if you're the kind of person who likes certainty, who makes plans and who wants to know what's going to come next. For the last months we've lived with that uncertainty - life is in limbo!
My particular case is rare. I don't just have one blood cancer (and that type is unusual enough) but another more aggressive one too which makes my situation even more unique and more uncertain. It's hard even for the doctors to predict and sometimes the answer is ‘we don't know!’ One doctor friend back home said this which sums it up well : ‘humanly speaking there remains a lot of uncertainty about what may happen - it's a high stakes battle and there usually aren't any guarantees’. 
So how do you deal with that and live in limbo? Well, one way is just to let go and accept that however much we might like to be in control of our lives and know with some certainty what's going to happen, that will not be the case. You have to learn to live with uncertainty. You need to take a day at a time knowing tomorrow might bring different news which may even just add to the uncertainty! All of that is easier said than done. We can know times of peace as well as times of anxiety, fretting and simply wanting to know where it's all going!
There is something else though and that is learning more and more to trust the One who does know the beginning from the end and who knows exactly what is happening and what will happen. Maybe one of the purposes of this whole time is simply that as a family we might learn that valuable lesson even more. There is a great verse in Proverbs which says - ‘Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails’. Sometimes it is like opening both hands to God, one crying to him with our heart’s desires and the other saying ‘may your will be done’. And in the midst of it all trusting in our unchangeable and faithful God is the only place to go if we want real certainty. ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. As a follower of Jesus, there may well be many things in our lives we don't understand or for which there don't seem to be answers but as we lift our eyes to our God and fix our eyes on the unseen things, we find a certainty which will never fail us.
Wise words from the depths of a really difficult situation. We've had situations of waiting and "limbo" before, but none that have been life-threatening. Our biggest time of limbo was when we were preparing to come to Japan. We spent a couple of years waiting for financial-clearance-green-light from our mission. We learnt much in that time of waiting that has stood us in good stead in the years since.

As the years go by, we've also prayed for many who have been in life-threatening situations. Some have had miraculous recoveries or rescues, others have instead had their lives on this earth ended. For those who were Christians, their miraculous healing didn't happen in front of us, but instead as they entered heaven. 

So, knowing that God heals and has the power to work in these situations can make it difficult to know how to pray. Here I found another couple of lengthy quotes as I read Prayer by Timothy Keller last night.

Augustine [a great theologian in the first millennia after Jesus] . . . argues that not only can we grow in prayer in spite of these difficulties but because of them. He concludes his letter [to a young widow friend who'd lost almost everything in the sacking of Rome in 410AD] by asking his friend, "Now what makes this work [of prayer] specially suitable to widows but their bereaved and desolate condition?" Should a widow not, he asked, "commit her widowhood, so to speak, to her God as her shield in continual and most fervent prayer?" What a remarkable statement. Her sufferings were her "shield"--they defended her from the illusion of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance. He calls her to embrace the situation and learn to pray." (p88)
These are again Augustine's thoughts on prayer:
Even the most godly Christian can't be sure what to ask for when we are enduring difficulties and suffering. "Tribulations...may do us good... and yet because they are hard and painful...we pray...that they may be removed from us." Should we pray, then, for a change in circumstances or just for strength to endure them? Augustine points to Jesus' own prayer in Gethsemane, which was perfectly balanced between honest desire ...and submission to God...He points also to Romans 8:26, which promises that the Spirit will guide our hearts and prayers when we are groaning and confused_and God will hear them even in their imperfect state. So, Augustine concludes, pour out your heart's desire, but remember the wisdom and goodness of God as you do so. (pp87-88)
Food for thought, all of it.

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