Let us not become weary in doing good.
Sometimes life is mostly about showing up. And sometimes that is not easy to do. My experience with cancer, much like my experience of healing from childhood trauma, was a long series of needing to show up. Showing up to take care of cancer means showing up for doctor’s appointments, tests and surgeries. In addition to these events, I was preparing myself for the possibility that I might need to show up five days a week for seven weeks of radiation treatment. None of this felt easy to me.
Henri Nouwen, in his book The Path of Waiting, writes about spending time with a man who was in the late stages of cancer. This man had been active in ministry all his life. He was a doer. Now he could no longer do. Instead, he was the recipient of other peoples’ doing. Nouwen writes about their exploration of this challenge together and ends with a meditation on the phrase that Scripture uses in connection with the final stages of Jesus’ life. It is the expression: “being handed over.”
The term ‘to be handed over’ plays a central role in the life of Jesus. Indeed, this drama of being handed over divides the life of Jesus radically in two. The first part of Jesus’ life is filled with activity.…But immediately after Jesus is handed over, he becomes the one to whom things are being done…It is important for us to realize that when Jesus says, “It is accomplished” (John 19:30), he does not simply mean, “I have done all the things I wanted to do.” He also means, “I have allowed things to be done to me that needed to be done to me in order for me to fulfill my vocation.”….He doesn’t just fulfill his vocation by doing the things the Father sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him that the Father allows to be done to him. Passion is a kind of waiting—waiting for what other people are going to do….It is in the passion that the fullness of God’s love shines through. It is a waiting love, a love that does not seek control.*
When we show up for doctors appointments, tests, treatments or surgery, there is a real sense in which we are handing ourselves over. We are letting go of being in charge of our bodies, our health and sometimes even our lives.
I struggled with this. We all struggle with this. Not only with the passivity which it seems to require, but also with the trust it requires, and most of all, with the physical surrender which it requires.
A friend and I were talking about this one day. I told her that I knew my job was to keep showing up wherever and whenever I was told to show up. “That’s it,” she said. “Your job is to show up. That is the most important thing you can do right now. Just show up.”
This same friend had shared with me her story of showing up every day for a year to take her chemotherapy when she was fighting breast cancer. She took her chemotherapy in pill form at home. Within an hour of swallowing the pill she would become sick. In order to stay faithful to this kind of difficult showing up she put a note on her refrigerator, which read, “Chemotherapy is a gift from God.” Every day she read this note, and it helped her find the strength to show up and take her medication. It was a daily practice of handing herself over. Today, some twenty-seven years later, I bless her for taking care of herself in this way. She is still blessing my life and many other peoples’ lives with her presence.
Long before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had learned something about showing up when I pushed myself week after week to show up for counseling. The fear and shame that developed in me as a result of childhood trauma had followed me into adulthood. I knew I had to find a way to heal from all that trauma, but the healing required that I show up every day to journal and to pray through the pain. And it required that I show up to acknowledge my struggles in therapy. The only way I could do this was to pray daily for the humility and courage I needed to show up in these ways.
It was persistence in showing up—and God’s persistence in showing up on my behalf—which were in large part responsible for the freedom I eventually came to enjoy. Perhaps the greatest surprise when we show up is the way God meets us in those difficult moments.
May you be granted the courage and humility to show up today. And may you experience God’s persistence in showing up on your behalf.
When you don’t know what to do…show up.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What experiences have you had with needing to show up?
2. What gives you the strength to show up and to keep showing up?
3. What has your experience been of God showing up for you in these difficult times?
* Henri Nouwen, The Path of Waiting (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1995)