It was a repeat mammogram appointment, and as the ultrasound technician wordlessly went over and over the same spot on my right breast, I was getting worried. After probably seven minutes of looking at the same piece of ceiling tile, I inhaled and exhaled audibly, and the tech asked if I was okay. “I’m fine,” I replied, “just a bit worried, I guess.” I added a little chuckle at the end, for levity, and to reassure her that we were on the same team. I was met with silence.
My heart raced at her non-response. When this technician went to school, they probably taught her how to interact with nervous patients. I imagine they had a quiz on key phrases they could use when things didn’t look good, and after a full two minutes of quiet, she uttered one:
“We’re almost done, okay?”
Almost done. Okay, so she obviously meant the exam was almost done, but anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes or who has read any of my writing would know what I was thinking in that moment.
My life is may be almost done.
As I prayed silently, my heart caught on the bit of the ‘Our Father’ where we say, ‘Thy will be done.’ Honestly, it occupied me for a good ten minutes on that table, thinking about what we really mean when we say that. Lately, as I try to give over my will to God, it can be hard sometimes to believe that He wills good things. I know I don’t see the whole picture, and what’s ahead, but there sure does seem to be a lot of suffering in my circle lately. Maybe God’s will is that everyone learn, learn, learn through their trials and become better people in the process. That hypothesis makes my view of God feel cold and disconnected, and it doesn’t settle well with me. So, God doesn’t will cancer, but maybe He allows it? Suffers with us in it? Walks alongside of those who endure it? Maybe.
It’s a hard thing to reconcile. I just finished a wonderful book by Kate Bowler called ‘Everything Happens for a Reason…And Other Lies I’ve Loved’. She was a thirty-five year old mother of a beautiful baby boy and a professor at Duke Divinity School when she received the devastating diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. What’s the reason for something like that? Was it God’s will? Impossible. This is not a God I could ever love, understand, or follow. When I see the intense suffering of people around me, I think the same.
But I’ve had friends who have been on a table just like the one I was laying on, who had to walk out of the room with the ‘c’ word spinning around in their heads and hearts. Who had to tell family and friends. Who fight through the burdens of ordinary days in addition to this intruder that’s invaded their blood or bones or breast. Where is God in that?
We are His hands, that’s what we are taught. We can be the ones who bring peace and comfort and help, a word of encouragement, a lifting of burdens. God is depending on us to be grace-bringers in this dark, dark world. What choice do we have but to try?
But when it comes back to the question of God’s will, I confess I need some perspective. I need to zoom out, way out, past the pain and struggles and questioning to find the perfect way in which all of these stories come together and make sense. Because it only makes sense with a long lens, really. Detached from the hysterical, middle-of-the-night worries and quiet, hot tears that keep a person frozen to her mattress, without the luxury of separating from her pain.
After a long wait this morning, sitting on the edge of that table in a johnny, I was told that whatever it was they spent so much time looking at was likely nothing to worry about, that we would watch it and see what happens. I am fully aware it could have gone another way. In other years, I’ve gotten to the point in the process past the second mammogram, past the long ultrasound, where they took fluid from cysts in needle biopsies and sent it out to be tested. I’ve not been past that point, yet, but I may some day.
Thy will be done. Who’s to say what it is or how it makes sense, it’s well beyond us most days. It’s can be hard in the smallest moments to understand it, but we can experience it. Grace, benevolence, trust, the feeling of being intimately loved by God: knowing the gentle force of Him in our lives is the only way we can ever pray those words and really mean them. Some days we do.