“Daughter take courage, your faith has made you well.”
One of the most important factors in my journey is my personal faith, and more of that anon, but as I began researching the nature of my condition, I came across lots of anecdotal stories, and some studies, that told of improved quality of life, prolonged survival and even in some cases, miraculous survival against the odds.
Faith does not necessarily look ‘religious’. (in fact I would say it rarely does).
Among these survivors were people who had eaten nothing but mangoes, there were people who had consumed pathological quantities of apricot kernels, there were people who swore by raw foods, mushrooms, cannabis, coffee enemas (!), high fat diets, carb free diets, and many even less likely ‘cures’. There were many that combined these remedies with strong personal belief systems, but by no means in all cases was this so. But what struck me was the passion and utmost faith that these survivors had in their chosen path. The internet is littered with testimonies given by radiant, smiling, enthusiastic people who have overcome brain tumours. Most, sensibly, combined their life-changing diets/supplements/remedies and personal beliefs with good medical care, and I am ever grateful to these inspiring people who pepper the bleak landscape of statistical prognosis with hope and sunshine.
Whether you trust God or rhubarb juice, there seems to me no doubt that an absolute belief that you will survive is a huge factor in aiding wellbeing during treatment and influences survival. Total trust in expert clinical care may be enough, [although our medical carers often make this an impossibility by their insistence on making dismal predictions about survival!] but for many this can be enhanced by feeing that they are personally engaged and involved in the healing process by doing everything they can to give this treatment the best chance of succeeding. Whether this involves nurturing your spirit or your body, or both, there seems no doubt that the benefits are real.
Of course God, unlike rhubarb, is able to also guide the hands of your surgeon.
The trouble is that you cannot ‘conjure up’ a belief in anything, much less a belief that you will beat the published odds; no amount of ‘positive thinking’ will change your prognosis. Prognosis is a statistic. To believe you can change the statistics is like putting your money on a broken down old nag and expecting him to win the Grand National by the power of your belief in him. This sort of encouragement is very unhelpful to people. “Come, on, think positive,” can be a depressing thing to hear when you feel ill and beaten, and stories of how positive thinking helps outcomes can be thoughtless and damaging. People who are suffering and hurting can feel worse because you are actually telling them that it’s their own fault for having a ‘bad attitude’. No, No, No! Just stop that, you well-meaning well wishers.
What we can do is have absolute faith that, no matter how small that percentage of long term survival is, we are going to be in it.
But exactly what does that sort of faith look like?
Faith doesn’t have to be monumental. The bible says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.(Luke 17:6) And here’s the thing, the Christian faith, as described in the bible, doesn’t (contrary to popular belief) require you to have totally sussed God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and all the rest of the malarky in order to access that saving faith. People who underwent miraculous healings in the bible often had no idea who Jesus (or the person doing the healing) was, they just believed passionately that it was possible, and that the man before them was the man to do it, if anyone could. They chucked what little faith they has his way, and were amply rewarded. They may not have really understood it at the outset, but most of the time it was more than physical healing that took place: eyes were opened in more ways than one.
But, they weren’t just betting on any old nag, in the main they had considered the stories, seen, or heard rumours of the evidence, weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with it, sometimes going to such lengths that they took great risks (the man lowered down through the roof – Luke 5:18-25) or went against tradition or protocol, risking criticism or humiliation.
So it’s not just any old fad you follow, you have to have reason to believe what you do; not necessarily hard evidence (Jesus had no credentials or certificates, no double blind controlled trials to his credit) but everyone knew he wasn’t just any old quack. There were anecdotes aplenty in the communities about his wisdom, goodness and love, and he stood out like a sore thumb above the established religions and authorities of the time. So it is absolutely vital you consider what you put you put your money on. Faith must not be blind. However, when you have found that thing , that something (or someone) that seems reassuring and sound, that note that rang out pure and true when you sounded it out, when you listened to the stories, heard the accounts, saw the evidence; after all that, when you have decided that what you see is true and good, then chuck everything you have at it and just trust.
That’s faith, and faith heals.
Christian faith is just like that but it puts Jesus at the centre of the stage. You sort of have to have got the sense that God is a genuine thing first, and lets face it, most religions and a vast majority of undecided people sort of go with that in some form or other (maybe). But Christians have gone further in daring to consider that The Bible might contain something important, something that can actually enhance our knowledge of this ‘maybe’ God.. And that throws us into a flat spin because (throughout) it talks about nothing but this historical figure, a man, no different from you and I, and yet astonishing beyond belief.
He is no more than a concept without a name for the first half of the bible (old testament) but then, hey presto, he actually, really and truly, crops up in the history books! (Of which the new testament is only one). I love the CS lewis quote above. He makes the point most of us miss. Jesus either was who he said he was or he was a madman. There middle ground most of us like to stand on (that he was a good moral teacher and no more) simply does not exist.
It is easy to miss the facts unless you actually study them, but once you do consider the facts it is hard not to conclude that God did, indeed, send his Son* to live among us as human flesh so that we, ourselves, could become sons of God and have eternal life. It is a strange belief, that is hard to understand and even harder to explain, but it hinges somehow on the idea that through a kind of exchange of flesh for spirit, mediated by this God/man Jesus, we are elevated to a spiritual realm, above the trials and tribulations of our petty, mortal lives, and enabled to inhabit lives, which we would never hope to live in our own strength, lives we never could know without this spirit within us. The old excuse ‘I’m only human’ is no longer valid. We are all so much more than that!
We Christians are, I would say, pathetic at putting the concept across and worse than that, usually miss the point ourselves. We wave Jesus banners, we idolise religious icons and rituals that we have long since forgotten the true meaning of, and as a result we not only live lives far removed from that ideal but estrange ourselves from rational thought and piss off a large proportion of sensible people. (I can say that because I have been there got the T shirt.)
But despite all that, we are perhaps no worse than other believers (everyone believes in something, whether it is another god, no god, mother earth, fate, chance, science or leprechauns.) We all are far to opinionated for our own good. The fact is, we none of us know the whole truth, and most of us don’t recognise the truth when it is appears before us unless it happens to agree with our preconceived ideas. And if we base our lives on lies and half truths we are doomed. The only way we can escape this sorry state of affairs, and find something other than our own flawed resources in which to put out faith, is to turn our idea of truth on its head. We should not look for a reliable source to give us truth, but for truth itself as evidence of the reliable source.
Jesus did just this when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. (John 14:6) He didn’t say abandon your own ideas of what is true and listen to religious doctrines. He didn’t say, stop going where you are going, church it the way to go. He didn’t say ditch your own life, no mater how great it is and get religious.” He said, in effect, “whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is most advantageous, whatever is the very best kind of life, when you see that, and really see it, deep in your heart, knowing it is the genuine deal (not the tinsel and tat) then you are seeing me.”
The truth needs no human hand to uphold it… we will know it when we see it, and it pops up in all sorts of places.
And we have all had glimpses of such truth in our lives, those times of wonder, those snatches of joy, those moments of absolute ‘rightness’. And anyone who has experienced that feeling, even for an instant, has had a closer encounter with Jesus than many banner-waving religious freaks.
So even if you have never considered yourself to be a Christian, even if you have drifted through life without a strong faith or don’t have a religious bone in your body, if you are truly intent on finding truth and sticking to it, finding the right way, and loving life with all your heart, you, like many before you, are on the right road, and it is a road on which you can have life and live it to the full. (John 10:10)
And so it it is through this faith that my healing is experienced, not just the safe eviction of Bob, but the joy I am having in the journey through this astonishing, at times hilarious, and continually moving, encounter with brain cancer. So far, God has provided for me in every way: I have felt blessed, loved and cared for, and have had more glimpses of that joy, that truth, that love, that absolute rightness, in the weeks since this all began than I have ever had before.
You see, although so far Bob stubbornly sits in my brain, firmly convinced of his supremacy, I know that he is defeated#. And once you are secure in that knowledge, you then have the time to look around you and notice the love, the blessings, the provision, and from that comes the joy in what would otherwise be a pretty dreary journey.
[# update: nearly 3 years on – still cancer free and loving life]
[* I know some people will just tut and give up at reading religious jargon such as “Son of God” but try and take the essence not the rhetoric. The word ‘son’ in biblical terms clearly does not, in this instance, imply a biologic relationship. (God did not get married and beget jesus!) The hebrew word is a term that be used for any offspring and applies to the nature and allegiance of the person. Thus, as Jesus was declared to be a Son of God so can we also be. It is about our beliefs, our influences and our spirit not our genetics. ]