Everything is Grace
The last year of my life has been one of the most difficult and yet one of the most glorious years of my life. When I first heard the word “cancer” as the doctor called to tell me the results of a CT Scan, my wife and I were stunned and reduced to silence. Only tears flowed as we began to process what it might mean.
After an invasive surgery to biopsy the baseball sized growth in my chest, I began six months of chemotherapy. To put it mildly, it has not been fun. And, it appears there is still more to come. However, not too far into the process, I began to experience a depth of reality previously reserved primarily in the realm of theory. In Soul Making, Alan Jones puts it this way:
“There is an unfinished quality about human beings that is both tragic and glorious: tragic because the openness and freedom of human identity is hard to bear; glorious because the openness and freedom corresponds to our deepest desire. Many people think of themselves as in some way finished.”
As I began to lose my hair, I began to gain the deep sense that we are indeed a mixture of tragic and glorious. Because of the created freedom that humans experience, we frequently opt to pursue some sense of being “finished” and “put together.” This is tragic because it is illusory and unattainable. Suffering can be an incredible gift because such illusions are shattered. To sugar coat suffering or to say that a cancer diagnosis is not so bad is to deny reality. However, there is something deeper to be experienced than favorable or unfavorable circumstances.
Suffering has a way of highlighting our “unfinishedness” and it is glorious because there is the opportunity to live our created design without the illusions that often plague us. When life is going relatively well, we might believe that we can be finished, that we can be independent. Those concepts are not only illusions but they are not consistent with our design as contingent, dependent beings. Our deepest desire is to use our freedom to connect with God … to abide with Him … to discover our true self in Christ.
Romans 8 famously asserts “there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.” We often cling to that truth in a passive sort of way. We look at it passively in terms of intellectually trusting the concept that God loves us when suffering and loss is so painfully present. Beautiful words, but they might not necessarily transform the way we are interacting with things.
So, what does it really mean, “nothing can separate us from the love of God”? Foundationally, it means that He is not separate. He is not distant. Further, it means that if “no thing” can separate us, then “every thing” is a connecting point with God. This is not a passive concept but one that can usher us into a very active way of being in this world. If “every thing” is a place to connect, then experiencing God is always in the present tense. The present moment, as Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote, “holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams.”
Perhaps, those places of suffering and difficulty are actually great connecting points with God because we experience our need and desperation for God more fully in suffering than in the “pleasant” spaces of life.
However, we are frequently tempted to run from our sufferings instead of meeting God in them. In Exodus 14, the people of Israel traveled to the promised with the armies of Pharaoh on their heels. They begged Moses to go back to Egypt as they began to believe that they would die in the wilderness. Moses responded with, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Silence is an expression of deep trust in the midst of suffering, and it has a way of opening us to a different way of seeing. In James 1, we are challenged to be quick to listen and slow to anger and speech. In silence, we are able to see that our frailty and “unfinishedness” is actually our greatest asset rather than a liability. If anger and talking take precedence, we often never move past feeling we’ve been deprived in some way.
When suffering, the sensation of separation from “the good life” can be very real. Like the people of Israel, it can feel like death. Again, if nothing can separate us from His love and presence in our lives, then we can reinterpret these feelings as the experience of our need and desperation for God. The “good life” is Him.
So, everything is grace. Every thing is an opportunity to know and experience His love.
Do I believe that everything is grace? Is everything an opportunity to know Him more fully and deeply? On some days, I can say “yes” and on other days, I struggle but even in the struggle I know that there is more. Perhaps that is what hope feels like … trusting that there is more.
Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast comments: “Can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything but in every moment.” We cannot be and should not be grateful for things such as war, violence, or illness. It is not that the circumstance is a gift but in the moment, we can experience gratitude for what the circumstance offers, what it gives.
1Thessalonians 5:18 encourages, “Be thankful in all circumstances.” Notice that it does not say “for all circumstances.” Of course, but in each moment we can be thankful because each moment holds a wealth of riches.
As I continue on my journey with this illness, I am challenged to say, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118) The circumstances of the day might be hard but this day will gift me with another opportunity to know Him, and the more difficult the day … the more deeper the knowing.
I am grateful because everything is grace … everything is a pathway into what my heart most desires, knowing Him.
Note: if you are interested in following my journey with cancer, you can follow my journal at mylifeline.org/tedwueste.