I’m a huge loser. I’ve lost huge amounts of stuff, and I’m not talking about stuff like car keys or socks (always just one per pair) in the dryer. In a single two-month period I lost my marriage (of thirty-three years), my ministry (I was pastoring a nice little church in beautiful beach town in California), my health (I broke my neck and was diagnosed with an incurable cancer), my house, my income, and on and on. I’m not whining or looking for sympathy, I’m just setting the scene so you have some context for what I’ll share about some of the lessons I learned through the losses I experienced. I’m not the only loser around. Everyone’s lost something – a parent, a childhood, a friendship, a mind. What was I saying? Oh yeah, I hope that something among these simple thoughts will help you in some way as you process your own losses.
I figure if you’re going to be a loser, you should be a good one. That’s why I like to say, “If you fall down, while you’re there, face in the dirt, look around for quarters.”
Let me first tell you about a friend that I met in my sufferings, my buddy named “Chemo.”
My Buddy: Chemo
“I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in this body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
“If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life must lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24
“May I never boast in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
“I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” Galatians 6:17
When you’re not big enough to defend yourself against a bully it’s good to have a burly friend. Cancer’s a bully, and like most who are trying to beat that bully, I consented to have a bunch of chemicals infused into my bloodstream to assassinate cancer cells living in me one-by-one. No doubt you know someone who also has become acquainted with this buddy of mine.
As absurd as it sounds, let me tell you how Chemo became my friend. When suffering the ill side effects of chemo (loss of appetite, hair, strength), at first I thought of it as an enemy sent to poison me. But then a picture (more like a video) came to my mind.
I’m standing on railroad tracks, unaware of the oncoming train behind me. I’m about to be smashed, when a friend sprints up and body-blocks me with all of his might – knocking me off the tracks just in time. He saves my life, but in the process breaks three of my ribs, gives me a concussion, knocks out several teeth, and inflicts a wide assortment of other cuts and bruises. Was it worth it? Sure, because even though I was traumatized by it, I walked – more like limped – away alive!
Chemo, like the cross, saved my life. Both Chemo and the Cross hurt me, but ultimately helped me. Eventually I’ve become a healthier person, and yet still bear some of the “marks” that remind me what it was that made me better.
When I refer to the “cross,” of course, I’m talking about our cross, the one that Jesus told us to take up, carry, and die on. Crosses hurt on the way to killing their victims. The cross on which we die to our old life hurts us on the way to taking away our old bad life.
Dying to sin and self is always going to be painful. We like our old selfish ways and we hate to give them up. But the cross that hurts us also helps us. Without this cross-induced death, how can we experience anything that even resembles resurrection? We can’t be raised to a new life with Jesus until we die to our old one. Even Jesus wasn’t raised until he died. Nobody likes pain and we naturally resist dying. But this is the kind of death that does us good. So, instead of a foe, this kind of death is a friend.
When I was suffering the “ill-effects” of some very potent chemotherapy, I tried to remember that these symptoms were a sign that it was accomplishing something good. When I looked at myself in the mirror – bald, scrawny, decrepit as I was – I tried to remember that this was a good thing. The chemo was doing its thing. I was dying so that I could get raised up again with a new life.
[More to come in part two…]