There has been a lot of discussion recently about death and suffering. I first became aware of the current trends in this topic when confronted with the headline “My Right to Death With Dignity at 29.” I should have realized what the article would do to me, but somehow I clicked through anyway. And that is how I found myself at my desk in Nicaragua, crying for a dying woman I’d never met thousands of miles away.
I felt deep compassion for her. I knew another twenty-something woman who also fought hard against the tragedy of cancer. She lost her battle a year ago. I don’t understand any of it. But then again, there is a lot about this life I don’t understand.
Like why some people must struggle with such profound pain.
Or why some babies must grow up without their mamas.
Or why some daddies must outlive their sons.
Or why there are days when the darkness just seems so overwhelming, and the light so far away.
Reading about Brittany’s decision to end her life before cancer ends it for her left me wondering what I would do if I ever found myself in her situation. I wanted to agree with Brittany, that perhaps it’s best to die with dignity before it gets too bad. Hearing her story, I really wanted to think she was doing the right thing.
But I couldn’t. Even though I don’t understand it all, I just couldn’t consider putting myself back in the driver’s seat of my life. I’ve lived that way before, and it didn’t work out so well. Instead, I gave the steering wheel over to God, and have preferred to let Him lead since then.
This has caused a significant change in perspective over the years. Instead of approaching life with tons of “what ifs,” I am trying to live amidst a series of “even ifs.”
Not what if I get cancer… but even if.
Not what if the cancer gets really really bad… but even if.
Not what if I lose someone close… but even if.
Even if my worst case scenario plays out in front of me… I want to trust the Author of my life to orchestrate it — and even end it — as He sees fit.
As if to clarify my thoughts on this topic, a second related article came across my screen this week: “Dear Brittany: Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid of Dying & Suffering that We Choose Suicide.” This post was written by yet another woman fighting cancer. Kara Tippetts, who has four young children, is dealing with a body riddled with cancer. She doesn’t have much time left, which means Kara knows well the ugly side of death and suffering. Much of her writing about living through pain has recently been published in a book called The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard.
I finished reading this book on a plane, which means I did my best to cry silently while surrounded by my kids and a slew of middle-aged men traveling for business… but I am so grateful for Kara’s story. Of the many noteworthy comments I found in her book, here is a few that help summarize why I struggled with Brittany’s solution:
“But because I believe God’s plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it. I don’t want to try to change God’s mind – his thoughts are prefect. I want to think his thoughts. I don’t want to change God’s timing – his timing is perfect. I want the grace to accept his timing. I don’t want to change God’s plan – his plan is perfect. I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it. I want to submit.” — Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope
These women are walking difficult paths. So difficult. Anyone traversing such difficult terrain has good reason to want to give up. And yet… and yet… there is purpose in the pain. Beauty in the suffering. Perfection in the plan.
Kara included another quote that really struck me:
“Interestingly enough, the most-asked question in the whole Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – is “How long, O Lord, how long?” And the most repeated command from God is “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid.” The people of God consistently cry out for relief, and the God of love bids us trust him.” — Scotty Smith, Objects of His Affection
Oh, how we can all identify with this! How long, O Lord, how long? It feels good to know I am not the only one to cry out to God in desperation, seeking an end to suffering. How much more, God? When will it end?
Take heart, my child. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. In this world, you will have trouble, but I have overcome it all… trust me to bring beauty from ashes.