The nurse administering my stem cell transplant chemo commented, “You seem to be doing better than the last round of chemo.” I thought back to my first day of chemo when everything was unknown, uncertain and just plain scary. Of course I am doing better, I thought. In a two week time period I had just been informed I had cancer, that there is no formal cure, that we needed to choose a treatment path, that we needed to decide where to locate the family, that we had to get insurance approval for treatment and that I needed a 24×7 caregiver. I had no idea what to expect during treatment because I had never done this before. Yes, losing the perceived control I thought I had over my life shook me up considerably.
The unknown has a way of instilling fear into humans, who like predictability. Just look at the financial markets. We all get a little skittish when we don’t know what to expect.
Cancer changes your world in a matter of hours. Because the severity of the trial is beyond your power and personal control, you must rely on a team of people to get you through. You are suddenly dependent on doctors and research that offer medical treatment, on caregivers for rides, food and water, and on family and friends for emotional support.
I ask, how much control do I really have over my life? The extremes are easy to consider; passive resistance that I am controlled by fate, or hard-headed arrogance that my life is completely my own. I am realizing now I am both dependent and independent. I am an agent of choice and change and yet do not command the universe or its workings. I control much of my own destiny and at the same time am dependent for all that Heaven provides – food, air, sun, and the breath of life. There are two forces at play: God’s will and my own personal will.
I’ve been reading about Abraham Lincoln who also learned about God’s will and personal will as he made every effort to stop the Civil War. From his inauguration in 1861, he fought to save the Union. When war began, he worked tirelessly to end it. In 1864, he saw God’s deliberate hand in the events and came to the conclusion that God would end the war at the appropriate time, when He wanted it to end. “The purposes of the Almighty are perfect” he wrote. The purposes “must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance… We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and and has ruled otherwise.” He then noted the importance of personal will. “Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.” “The purposes of the Almighty” letter to Eliza P. Gurney, September 4, 1864, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7:535.
Like Lincoln, I realize that success will only come as I seek to understand God’s will and then do what I can with my personal will to “work earnestly in the best light he gives” me. So how do I determine God’s will for me? In a word, prayer. “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” Prayer, Bible Dictionary
Recognizing and understanding God’s will seems to come to humans in a gradation of maturity: First, we can ignore His will completely. Second, we can selectively obey his will. Third we do His will out of duty, but with irritation. Fourth, we can do His will with a glad heart.
Seeking His will takes a bit of humility. “To be humble is to recognize gratefully our dependence on the Lord—to understand that we have constant need for His support. Humility is an acknowledgment that our talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies. We can be both humble and fearless. We can be both humble and courageous.” Humility
The best part about humility is that it opens the door to a teaching opportunity. I no longer know everything, so what do I need to learn? My plan is no longer my own, is there a bigger plan for me than the one I had in mind? All doors and windows are literally thrown open to a new view of the world. My predictable world is shattered, but for the better. Perhaps there is no personal growth in a comfort zone.
At the same time, no matter what happens “to” me, I still make daily choices about how I react to each life situation. As Stephen Covey puts it, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose.” The magnificent gift of free will is the greatest gift we have, next to life itself. What do I still control, even during cancer treatment? My gratitude for the great kindness of others, my attitude, my communication with family and children, my thoughts and ideas. As I recover and resume normal activity, the list will grow.
But I will forever know that bringing God’s will and my personal will into alignment will always be in my best interest. “God knows best,” says Lincoln. And I am inclined to agree.