Prison of cancer, and thankfulness.

I know two people who have cancer right now. It doesn’t look like they are winning the battle. One is a friend from high school, so she is my age. One is my mother in law. Sandy, my friend, has brain cancer. The doctors have recently told her that they are not going to continue treatment. Chris, my mother in law, is still undergoing chemotherapy.

Both don’t want to die, of course.

Prayers are going up, out, across, and within for them. Prayers asking for relief, for healing. But healing comes in many ways. When we pray, it is useful to remember that God isn’t our waiter. God does what is necessary for The Plan. We aren’t big enough to see The Plan. We are part of it. We are inside it. We are pawns on this board.

I offer you a story from the New Testament.

Acts 12:1-17 (NRSV)
1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. 6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.

Notice that “the church prayed fervently to God for him” in verse 5. God sent an angel to free him. He didn’t recognize it was an angel. He thought it was a vision, but he did what he was told. He walked past the prison guards. Iron gates opened on their own.

Who is to say that prison and cancer aren’t the same? Both hold you hostage. Both stop your progress. Both can be the end of you. So I’ve thought about this story and linked the two. Peter was freed from prison because of intercessory prayers. God heard the prayers and sent an angel.

Who is to say that angels don’t take the form of doctors and nurses? God works through us. Healing can come in surprising ways. We are constantly looking for miracles, while not noticing the ones that happen around us all the time.

I prayed for Sandy in earnest when I found that the doctors had decided to cancel treatment. They feel that there is no point. I’ve been praying for her off and on in the meanwhile, but this renewed my efforts. While I was praying I asked God to heal her. I got the decided feeling back from God – “why should I?”

This stumped me. This is God? This is the all-loving, all-merciful God? I said in reply that it was because He would be praised and thanked for it. He said “Why? She hasn’t thanked me yet.”

I thought, really? Is that true?

Then I thought, how petty.

Do I want to worship a God that has to be appeased? Do I want to worship a god that essentially says “What’s in it for me?” when you ask for a boon?

I grumbled about this.

And, then, as usual, I started writing. I understand things by writing. Writing isn’t about pinning things down all the time. For me, it uncovers. It digs down. I learn things when I write about them. So I wrote. And something amazing came to me.

God wants us to be thankful because that is what separates us from animals.

God made all of the earth, and all that is in it, but he made us separate. He commanded the Jews to say at least 100 blessings every day – to constantly be on the lookout for ways to say thanks. Christians are adopted Jews, yet we somehow forgot that command.

We are commanded to be thankful, not because God needs it, but because we need it. We need to be thankful, to be aware, to be alert. We need to not take anything for granted. We need to be awake to the beauty of life and be grateful constantly.

Otherwise we become like animals. We forget who we are. We forget where we came from. We forget where we are going. We spend our days being asleep even when we are awake.

God wants us to be fully alive. There is something to this life that is interesting. You can be alive, but not living. You can go through you days, all day and all life, and never really live.

Who cares about “life after death” if we never even lived while we were alive? If there is “life after death” would we waste it as well, being mindless?

Thankfulness keeps us alive.

Don’t wait to be thankful. Don’t wait until your prayer is answered. Be thankful now. Be thankful for what you have. If you are a good steward of a little, then you will be given more. Remember the story of the servants who were given different amounts of money to keep for their master? It isn’t about money at all.