Cancer, Control and Freedom

I have many partial blog posts that I’ve written but haven’t published any for a month. This has been for multiple reasons — the heart, the mind, the stress, the feeling of inadequacy, the dealing with shame, or more likely, shame dealing with me. When I read this post by brother David Beck, a man struggling with something more tangible and much, much worse than I have ever had to face, pancreatic cancer, I was blessed. He captures in words such a powerful image of how we seek to “make” life into what we think it ought to be, rather than living life in what it is. Join me in following the shepherd. Enjoy this post. Grace to you.

Journal entry by David Beck — 2 hours ago

Health update

Today I head to the hospital for the latest scan and consultation with Dr. P. Based on recent scans and blood tests, I don’t necessarily expect great news. The stress of that uncertainty hovers around, inserting itself into my day at random times. It’s like grief. You never know when something’s going to trigger a wave of emotions you can’t quite control.

And that is really the topic of today’s post: control and freedom.

Control and freedom

I recently re-read Parker Palmer’s classic, Let Your Life Speak. A few paragraphs toward the end of the book sparked thoughts about cancer and how we view our lives. 

Palmer asserts that as we go through our years, we develop a metaphor that describes our view of life. Here are some popular metaphors:

Life is like a game of chance – some win, some lose.

Life is like a battlefield – you get the enemy, or the enemy gets you.

The thing about a metaphor like this is that it can name our experience of life and help make sense of the things that happen along the way. However, our central metaphor of life can come to take on an energy of its own. Palmer writes that ”these personal metaphors do much more than describe reality as we know it. Animated by the imagination, one of the most vital powers we possess, our metaphors often become reality…” (p 96) 

Palmer then unmasks the master metaphor of our era:

Life is like manufacturing – you can make whatever life you want, whenever you want it.

Palmer explains, “We do not believe that we ‘grow’ our lives – we believe that we ‘make’ them. Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.” (p 97)

What happens when the manufacturing metaphor graduates from naming our experience of life to becoming our experience of life? We devolve into control freaks, treating everything like a series of problems to be solved and asserting our will on the people and organizations around us. Some of us for whom life has gone well become arrogant. “Why can’t others make better choices and make a better life for themselves? Losers. They should be more like me.” Others of us, for whom life has brought more hardship and broken dreams, take on a victim’s mindset. “Why has all this happened to me? Why can’t I have a life like those people I see on Facebook and Instagram? Why me?”

One thing cancer has taught me is that life is not like manufacturing. I can’t make healing happen by will power, faith, cutting edge cancer treatments, a no-sugar diet, cannabis, or quitting my job and doing everything on my bucket list. Some people have found those things to be helpful. When stories of survivors like this are told, the narrative usually carries the unspoken assumption that because they did this thing and survived, then this thing caused them to survive. “Do this, and you can makeyour life last longer.” 

No, if there’s one thing cancer teaches a person, it’s that cancer can’t be controlled no matter what we are doing to combat it. Cancer thoroughly unmasks the “life is like manufacturing” metaphor. And in so doing, cancer makes room for better metaphors.

For me, life has taken on the shape of Psalm 23. Here’s how I would put it:

Life is like following a Good Shepherd – you do best when you let go and stay close to Him.

As a cancer patient, I believe in the goodness of God. In many ways, cancer has helped me see God’s goodness more clearly than ever. 

Cancer challenges me to let go. The Good Shepherd invites me to be comforted by him and follow where he leads. The more I let go, the more I experience his peace.

Being a sheep connected to the Good Shepherd means being connected to the other sheep. We form a community of people who are slowly shedding the “life is like manufacturing” illusion. We are together reaching for a life beyond control and all the ways it induces us to mistreat God, others, and ourselves. 

Here’s an irony: I have found that I am less stressed about cancer than I am prone to be about our church’s ups and downs. How can that be? It’s centered in control. For whatever reason, I remain somehow convinced that my workplace is something I can control. Cancer? Control left the building a long time ago. Church? It’s too easy for me to treat it like a series of problems to be solved rather than a sacred community constructed so we learn how to follow the Shepherd and thrive together in his presence.

For unmasking the “manufacturing” metaphor, I have cancer to thank. Now to have that same freedom frame my approach to church and the other areas of life I find myself striving, sometimes desperately, to control. 

Questions for reflection

What is your driving metaphor for life? How does that influence the way you react when something goes right and another thing turns tragic?

What would happen if you found a way to go through life in a less controlling way? How would the inner world of your soul and your outer world of your relationships be affected?

Thank you David Beck! Letting go of the controls is such a challenge in this life, but what an invitation. May you follow the Shepherd and reach for life alongside of me.

About Camino Way 2016 Shimer

On August 22, 1981 I married this wonderful woman, Karen, who has consistently blessed and changed my life and days. We are still in love, all the more with the years. We have four daughters, two sons by marriage, and three delightful, wonderful grandchildren. So, that makes me a husband, father, and grandfather all in those sentences. But mostly just a guy who loves my family. Today Karen and I planted beautiful plants in numerous pots. She had come home with the plants and that experience reminded me how much I enjoy simple things and simple pleasures -- like digging in dirt to plant a flower, like sunlight through glass on a spring day, like clean windows -- just washed ours today -- like a melody that won't escape from my heart. I've been a local church pastor for 30 years as of this June, a number that staggers me for I feel about that age on the inside, but clearly that's not the case. Back in 1988 I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with an Mdiv-- a time of schooling that has been a foundation for years of ministry. But it is mostly in the building upon that foundation, that has most changed my life. I love people, love seeing Jesus work in people's lives. One of my favorite joys is to pray with someone through some horrible place of memory and see Jesus walk right into their memory world, and turn on the lights in a way that sets their soul free and brings healing. There's nothing like this privilege and I have been there to watch it happen more times than I can count. Between 4 and 7 the associate pastor of my family's congregation sexually abused me, first grooming me, then repeatedly violating my young self. This marked my life. It changed my bearings. It ripped at my faith. It wounded my image of what it meant to be a little boy, and later a man. It has been a point from which I have been in the process of healing for many years now. I'm a survivor, but more than that, I am one who lives beyond what was done. For in the middle of all that stuff, Jesus was calling me, speaking to me, bidding me to follow him to bring change to people's lives within the realm of the very office that was used to harm me. Only Jesus can make light from darkness, hope from despair, and healing from brokenness. I love Jesus. He really is alive, no matter what others may believe. And his life, his presence, his words into my world, his healing power have continued to be the foundation point of what it means to experience life to the fullest. I love writing. I don't really know why on that score for really writing has never been a central tool in my world, nor has it come easily. But I love seeing how words released heal. And I love the way words can connect me to other people's worlds. So, that's why I started blogging. It began because I was planning to blog on a weekly basis when I went to walk the Camino de Santiago last fall. And in order to be able to blog while walking, I knew I had to begin to practice blogging before I was in another country. A friend told me that. Friends are good to help us find ways to live more authentically into our daily lives! So, I started. But what I have discovered is there is something powerful about sharing the story of life with others. So, I have continued. And I love the connections being built through those words. In 2011 I experienced my first seminar in Simply the Story, a bible story telling method that involves those listening in discussion and I decided then -- "this is what I plan to do when I retire." But really-- "why wait until then?" -- so I use this method while I continue pastoring. It sets people free and allows the Word to take root in ways that preaching never has. So again and again I am practicing asking questions and that is good practice for me, because I am frequently better at "telling" than "asking." This has been such a freeing gift. I love training others in this skill. So, a storyteller would certainly be true of me too. Years ago I discovered my mission in life is "the joyful transformation of people's lives through the person of Jesus Christ." And that continues to be where I find my home base, in joy. Where there is joy, I find, there is Jesus, and there is the possibility of transformation. Of course Jesus is in places where there is no joy as well, and once He is there, the place kind of changes because of Him. I love that.
Gallery | This entry was posted in camino, Cancer, discouragement, Encouragement, Faith, family, follow, Friendship, God is Alive, God is real, God speaks, God with us, hope, I see you, Jesus, Joy, light, meaning, pathway, Presence, Privilege, Provision, Shame, Steps, Trust and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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