Lessons Learned Through Illness
Nobody wants cancer. Certainly I did not! Some are so fearful of this disease they will not even say the word; they refer to it as the “C-word.” It’s one of the most dreaded maladies a human being can contemplate.
I frequently have pondered my own four-times cancer. How did I come by it? Was it genetic? My mother did have surgery for a malignant thyroid tumor in her later years, but she did not die from it. Has it been caused by habits pertaining to lifestyle? I was never a tobacco addict. Was it environment? When I severely broke my arm twenty years ago I had numerous x-rays; I have wondered if that started the process. Such speculations are academic and thus not useful at this point. The question now is: How have I dealt with it?
Fairly well, I would hope. I still am a very happy person. I have never lost my sense of purpose, nor of humor. I love to tease and be teased; many can testify to this!
On one of my recent walks, which I largely use for meditation, I tried to analyze some of the lessons I’ve learned from these difficult circumstances. I’d like to share a few with you—if I may be so presumptuous.
- I have come to appreciate living on God’s earth in a new way. Everything seems more beautiful. The loveliness of the countryside, the various creatures the Lord made, the value of a great family, and the treasure of Christian friends—these have become more precious than ever. Hundreds have prayed for me. I have received mail from all over the world as a result of our website, and more than once such has brought me tears of joy. I have appreciated the dedication and love of a Christian wife as never before. She has been a devoted nurse.
- I have a keener sense of time. When you combine the factors of age and serious infirmity, the ticking of the clock is louder, and you want to accomplish as much as possible. Not for yourself, but for others. Not with any material or temporal ambition, but for the eternal.
- I have learned how much I miss teaching. The past several weeks have been the longest period I’ve ever experienced without teaching a class or preaching. I miss it. What a contrast to the days of my youth when I literally would get sick before almost every speaking engagement. Now it’s a passion. I love it when eyes light up at the thrilling magnificence of the Bible. I rejoice all the more because I am my own best student. I need it as much as most, and certainly benefit from it more than anyone else.
- I have learned to be more sympathetic with others who have illnesses. I’ve walked in their shoes. I’ve felt their pains and experienced their fears. I empathize with the infirm. The fact is, I have formed a much closer bond with several with whom I have shared this disease than I ever would have before—and I am immeasurably richer for it.
- I have learned to be more sensitive to the feelings of others. People have said hurtful things to me. Such has not made me angry, for the offenders were those whom I know love me, and never would intentionally want to wound. And so now I try to be more cautious when speaking with those who similarly are ill.
- I have learned a measure of patience, though I do not yet have a PhD in that discipline. There is patience to be learned as one awaits the results of tests. And then again after one hears the dreaded news, and time drags on for what seems like an eternity, as you wait for multiple appointments to be scheduled, and then finally the recommended procedures. There is the challenge of exercising longsuffering in the long-suffering of healing! Hoping you are healing and trying not to make those around you feel so bad. I’ve had to make withdrawals from the “Bank of Job of Uz” on numerous occasions! And still not totally succeeding!
- I have reflected on my personal history. I’ve lamented the mistakes I’ve made—both in terms of sins, and in the exercise of poor judgment with reference to others. On the other hand, as I have contemplated my three-score and ten, I am thankful that I have never turned my back upon my Savior since I obeyed his gospel at the age of seventeen. I’ve never dropped out of service, losing irretrievable, precious years in the process. I’ve always diligently tried to do my best, even when I knew such was far inferior to the talents of others.
I have been amazed at the providence of God on behalf of a boy from rural Tennessee who was a very average student. I have spoken on programs before hundreds of people, and have wondered with amazement: “What am I doing here among these so far advanced above me?” I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve never even come close to blaming God for my hardships. I will love him till the end of my earthly life—and on into eternity.
I now express genuine gratitude to all who have encouraged me and helped me in so many ways. It’s a debt I could never repay. Thanks to all of you for blessing me so immensely!