If someone had said to me in May 1990: “Next month you are going to be diagnosed with metastatic cancer, have major surgery, and then need a year of chemotherapy,” I would have responded: “No way! I cannot possibly go through that!”
I am by nature a wimp.
I bruise and scar easily. Loud noises hurt my ears. I get motion sickness just turning around in the front seat of a car.
And I definitely do not like pain.
When I made the appointment for my first post-cancer colonoscopy (definitely not scheduled to air on national TV like Katie Couric’s!), I told the secretary I wanted plenty of anesthesia because I had been uncomfortably awake during most of the procedure the first time with a different physician.
“Be sure and tell the doctor,” I instructed her. But her casual “uh-huh” left me feeling that she didn’t think it was a real priority.
“Write on my chart ‘Wimp—needs lots of anesthesia,’” I instructed her again. She laughed and I still wondered whether she knew how serious I was.
My question was answered a few weeks later when I met my new gastroenterologist, Dr. Jim Srour, just moments before he started the procedure. The I.V. already was running into my hand as he read my medical chart. “I see it says here that you are a wimp and need lots of anesthesia,” he said without cracking a smile.
“Yes, that’s me!” I exclaimed.
He instructed the nurse to put more anesthesia in my I.V., and that is how and why Jim Srour became my favorite gastroenterologist!
Like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, I often feel I could use a dose of courage, but it’s not usually as easy as getting a little more medicine in an I.V. tube. But I do believe it is possible, even if we’re not naturally brave, to supernaturally receive courage for ourselves and even enough to share with others.
It’s important to understand that receiving supernatural courage is not the same as being a naturally brave person. It’s not something magical that happens to some people and not to others. No, you don’t have to go to Oz to find it.
The kind of courage I’m talking about is what God supernaturally pours into our hearts—even into ordinary, wimpy hearts like mine—through the power of His Spirit as we draw close to Him. And when He does, others notice—especially if we’re in a difficult situation.
“People tell me that I have a shine about me that they just don’t usually see in people,” says my friend Jutta, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and given two years to survive, but still cancer-free today. “I tell them that’s just a gift from God.”
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT
Yes, it takes courage to live in cancer’s shadow, but it’s not something we just have to reach way down deep into ourselves and find. No, instead, it’s power we receive from God to be strong even when we are weak.
I believe that courage is not living without fear—it’s living in spite of fear.
I love psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s thoughts on courage: “The absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is some kind of brain damage. Courage is the capacity to go ahead in spite of the fear, or in spite of the pain.”*
God will give you enough courage to live with an uncertain future. And as you encourage others with your story, you won’t have less courage; you will feel even more encouraged.
I have seen this happen time and again in my job as a patient advocate. People often say to me: “I could never do a job like that.”
My reply is: “I can’t either, but God can through me. I allow Him to pour courage into me so I have it to pour into others.”
So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall, but become strong.–Hebrews 12:12-13 NLT
I know it is difficult to persevere in cancer’s shadow, but I am convinced that it’s not the amount of our faith that gives us courage, it’s the object of our faith that makes all the difference.
Whenever I place my faith in God, I find courage. I don’t need luck, natural bravery, or a trip to the Wizard of Oz! You don’t need a lot of faith to find courage, but you do need to place your faith in the only One who can meet your deepest needs.
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world.–Jesus speaking in John 16:33 NASB
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.– Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT
* M.Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled (New York: Touchstone, 1993), 23.