The truth will set you free.
John 8: 23
Four days before Christmas in 2006 I had a phone appointment with my doctor. I was expecting to get the results of a breast biopsy that had been done a week earlier. At the time of the biopsy, I had been assured by the radiologist that everything looked normal, but as I sat down at the desk in my office and picked up the phone to call the doctor, adrenaline began pumping wildly through my body.
The receptionist put me through to the doctor immediately. The doctor began joking with me about finally getting the biopsy done (the equipment had broken down, and it had been necessary to reschedule the biopsy). Then she launched into a sentence I did not want to hear: “Unfortunately the results came back that you have Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. I have already scheduled an appointment for you with a surgeon at nine in the morning, the day after Christmas.”
I experienced the strangest sensations as I listened to these words. An image came to my mind of wanting her to rewind and start the sentence again, but this time I wanted her to say what I wanted to hear. I wanted her to rewind so I could hear her say, “Everything is fine.”
While I was working hard to not hear what I had just heard, the doctor was asking if that appointment time was possible for me. She was getting ready to hang up and move on with her busy day. But I was far from being ready to hang up. I had a thousand questions that were stacking and tangling behind the barrier of my disbelief. I asked if she would be available later to talk about this. But we were going into the holiday weekend and she was leaving town for several days. And so, without getting much information about what this diagnosis might actually mean, we said good bye.
As soon as I hung up, I called my husband who was a few miles away at his office. This was my first time to speak this strange new truth: “I have cancer.” My husband was in my office with his arms around me five minutes after I hung up. I was spinning emotionally and shaking physically. But he held me, and I began to feel more grounded.
A diagnosis of cancer can mean hundreds of different things. I did not know what this particular diagnosis meant. I had no idea about prognosis or treatment. All I knew was that it felt like very bad news.
As I moved through the months of additional testing, waiting, surgery, and more waiting, I found myself repeatedly caught in a powerful and confusing temptation to believe that I did not have breast cancer. In spite of all the doctors appointments and all the conversations and emails with family and friends the diagnosis of cancer had a way of turning into something surreal.
What I noticed was that, when I resisted the truth of the diagnosis, I became more anxious. This still seems counter-intuitive to me. Most commonly we deny and minimize difficult truths in an effort to decrease the discomfort of anxiety, but when I found myself resisting the truth, my anxiety increased rather than decreased. Whenever I started thinking “It can’t be” I lost my grounding and began to return to that original sensation of spinning and shaking. Whenever I would simply state the truth—“I have breast cancer and I need surgery” —I would feel my feet touch the ground again, and I would experience a sense of orientation.
As a result this became a daily mantra: “I have breast cancer, and I need to have surgery.” I would say this several times a day in order to accept this reality and to stay grounded.
I also began to pray each day for God’s help to stay grounded in this unpleasant truth. A diagnosis of breast cancer is a lot to take in. But it was the truth, and staying connected to the truth, no matter how painful or difficult it might be, always leads us toward freedom. Denying, avoiding or minimizing that a problem really exists leads us toward dangerous, unstable places.
During the year that our oldest son was using drugs, I experienced the contrast between the problems that denial creates and the clarity and sanity that staying grounded in reality provides. For too long we ignored what our eyes and ears told us was true. This lack of acceptance of reality—this lack of grounding—added to the problem. Because we denied the extent of the problem, we acted insanely. We acted as if we could reason with our son or as if we had some way to control his choices. It was only when we faced the painful reality that our son’s drug use was beyond our control that we could make healthier choices. It was only when we stayed grounded in the reality that our son needed help which we could not provide that we were able to refocus our attention on getting help for ourselves. This, as many parents in similar circumstances have learned, is a painful process, but getting grounded in our need for help and focusing on our insane behaviors was part of what made it possible for our son to get the help he desperately needed.
All of us would prefer life to be smooth and easy, but life is not like that. At least not for very long at a time. Life is one challenge after another. Often it is several challenges at once. We don’t have much control over the challenges we face but we do have some control over how we respond. A key part of that response is to stay grounded in the truth about each of life’s challenges and problems. Our work is to remind ourselves regularly of the truth of the difficulties we are facing. This is the only way we can feel how deeply we need God’s help and the support of others. It is the only way we will be able to do what is required of us.
When you don’t know what to do…stay grounded.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What difficulties and challenges are you facing at this time?
2. What are you aware of experiencing physically, emotionally or spiritually as you acknowledge these difficulties?