The Art of Suffering: Part Three
When I was a freshman in high school I tried out for the cheerleading team. One of the skills I had to perform was to do the splits. I worked and worked at it before try-outs but still had a few inches to go before I was flexible enough to reach the floor. When the day arrived to “show my stuff” I threw caution to the wind, jumped high, and came down hard into a perfect splits. I had to hold that position and smile while our judges looked my group over and released us. What no one knew was I had torn the muscle in my groin and beneath my grin I was grimacing in pain and agony! Once we were released, I somehow got myself up and went behind the bleachers to cry. It took weeks for the tear to heal…but I made the team.
Sometimes, suffering is like that. We smile and hold our heads high on the outside, but on the inside we just want to scream and cry. Some of us are better at living beneath a facade than others - perhaps because we were raised to “be happy” despite our circumstances, or maybe because expressing pain led to severe consequences or ridicule. We learn over time that wearing a smile is more acceptable than admitting our pain or trusting others to help us when we are hurting.
I was like that. I may have developed some misunderstandings about how others around me felt, but I came to believe that only positive emotions were acceptable emotions. So, although I was struggling with some profoundly painful childhood experiences, I did not feel I could trust any one to help me. I stuffed these feelings and experiences down into my soul and put on a happy face. Over time, this led to deep, emotional suffering and coping behaviors such as an eating disorder and other self-destructive conduct. But I was lucky…I found the help I needed and came to know the One in whom I can place my trust no matter what my struggles or needs.
I grew up going to church and was inquisitive about what God’s Word, the Bible, had to say about being a Christian. In high school, I met some other students who were so filled with joy that I was drawn to their faith. I made a commitment to follow Jesus and did my best to live up to my promise. But I found myself a few years later being forced to look at the painful experiences I had stuffed down through the years. It was a difficult time and hard to face after working so hard to hide my pain for so many years. But God, in His faithfulness and Grace, sent people to support me, professionals to treat me, and families to love me and take me into their homes. And then, God miraculously healed me on the inside and changed my life forever (an amazing story that perhaps I will share another time!)
Battling Stage 4, Metastatic Breast Cancer is a new pathway on my journey of trusting God. I know some think that those who turn to God are just using God “as a crutch” and perhaps even as a facade of another kind…hiding behind God rather than facing pain. But I say, the most important part of “The Art of Suffering,” of suffering well, is learning to give over the control of our lives to another; essentially, TRUST. Those in my age group may remember the 12 Steps from AA as also later used by Celebrate Recovery. 1. We recognize our lives have become unmanageable (powerlessness); 2. We come to believe in One greater than ourselves who can restore our lives and sanity (hope); 3. We turn our lives over to God completely (surrender). I came to know God while struggling with various addictions, but these same principles remain true every day of my life…each precious day. no matter how long my life may be. I believe my life, my days, my times are in God’s Hands — and I’m not ashamed to admit how much peace, comfort and purpose this brings to my life! "I trust in you O Lord, I say 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands..." Psalms 31:14-15
A few months after being diagnosed with metastatic disease (while undergoing chemotherapy), we took a family vacation to Disneyland and then a romantic get-a-way for just my husband and I in Santa Monica. We had an amazing New Year’s Eve 2016. Then…I woke up. January 1st, 2017, found my heart gripped with fear as I looked forward and wondered with deep anxiety what the year ahead would hold for me. We drove home to Gilroy that day and I spent the whole time crying, praying and reading my Bible in between stops along the way. I begged God for something to hold onto. I had placed my trust in Him years before, but I needed an infusion of hope. And then, just before our long journey that day ended, I was given a message of hope that I still find deeply comforting today: Life - and death - are in the Hands of God. Period. Every day, every year, every moment, are under the control of God. I, Christine Vatuone, was made by God and my days were determined before the world was made by God.
The psalmist said to God; “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Jesus put it this way: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground [die] apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of much more value than the sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31). What amazing truth! Cancer can’t take a single day away from me that was given to me by God. Cancer does not determine how long I will live or when I will die. God does! My life, every day of it, including every hair on my head (chemo patients get this!) is determined by God!
I have made Psalm 118:17 my theme verse: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and declare the works of the Lord!” I do not mean I think I will live forever, but rather that I shall not die until my time appointed by God. And I truly believe and trust that nothing - not even cancer - can rob me of one single day that God has planned for me, In the meantime, I have the great privilege and honor of telling others about the love God has poured out in my life. What a wonderful gift it is to know that I will live until God’s purposes for me have been completed. Nothing can change that, not even cancer!
There is so much more to add to the discussion about “The Art of Suffering” but this will be my last formal post. I hope you have found it helpful in your own lives. Practice Transparency: There is great deal of support that can be yours if you are willing to open your life to others and share your story. Remember Time: Pain will not last forever. Time can and does allow for healing to take place, and in time, it will. Finally, Place your Trust in God: It may feel like you are losing the battle, but you are not! “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-38) AMEN! THAT IS TRULY SOMETHING TO DECLARE!
Author: Christine Vatuone | CEO Informed Choices