O Lord, you turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.
When we have struggled with cancer and faced the possibility of our own death we may be surprised to realize that we have been given a new ability to celebrate each new day of life as a gift from God. In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about the importance of celebration:
“Celebration is at the heart of the way of Christ. He entered the world on a high note of jubilation: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy,’ cried the angel, ‘which shall come to all the people’ (Lk 2:10). He left the world bequeathing His joy to the disciples: ‘These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11).
In the Old Testament all of the social stipulations of the year of Jubilee – canceling all debts, releasing slaves, no planting of crops, returning property to the original owner – were a celebration of the gracious provision of God. People celebrated because God could be trusted to provide what was needed.
Our encounter with cancer can leave us with fear about our future and can erode our sense of hope. Celebration allows us to focus on the good gifts God has given us today, and helps us to look to God to care for us in the future.
Celebrations can be woven into our daily lives in many ways. We might begin each day with a simple prayer, thanking God for the gift of life this day. We might sing or dance to our favorite music. We might walk outside and stretch our arms out to the sky. We might clasp hands around the table and offer words of gratitude to God for our life together. We might make our favorite meal and invite a friend to share it with us. We might light a candle every time we have a milestone to mark, whether it is one more treatment done, one more week of life, one more month or year of being cancer free.
To become a person who can celebrate while living with cancer is not a simple task. But it is possible. May a sense of God’s presence allow you to enter into simple acts of celebration!
Questions for Discussion – Session 1
1. What are some of your favorite memories of celebrating as a child, or as an adult?
2. What about the experience of living with cancer makes celebration difficult?
3. How has your experience with cancer changed your ability to celebrate life?
Questions for Discussion – Session 2
1. How can simple celebrations of life be helpful to us as we live with cancer?
2. What are some of the things you do to celebrate the good things in your life?
3. Activity: Bring a cake and give each person a candle to place in their piece. Let each person state what they would like to celebrate, whether it is the number of weeks or years they have been cancer-free, or the number of treatments they have behind them, or the good report from the doctor, or the gift of life today.