I’m a cancer survivor, although mine was more of a “skirmish” than a battle. It was brief and relatively easily treated. But one long term consequence of even a cancer skirmish is that the doctors are hyper vigilant about new cancers, so periodically they see something suspicious and I spend an uncomfortable week waiting for test results. I haven’t had a cancer scare in several years. But it will most likely happen again.
When I’m healthy and my life is going great, I read about people courageously facing illness and I think “I would do that — I’d be brave and trust God and put a big smile on my face.”
And then “it” — or even the vague threat of a possible “it” — happens, and I crumble like stale coffee cake.
I’m not generally a worrier. But when it looks like something big could be wrong — well, sometimes I am. It turns out that I, with a brain wired for overthinking and a first-born’s penchant for control, apparently have a very difficult time just “letting go and letting God” when the stakes get high.
When the rubber actually hits the road, this whole “Jesus, I Trust in You” thing is much easier said than done.
I try. I read all of those lovely Bible verses about being not afraid, and the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and all. Nope, still afraid. I pray surrender prayers — the ones that talk about how if we would stop worrying and surrender to him, he would take care of everything. Then I worry that he won’t take care of everything because I am still worrying.
Of course, in the rational parts of my mind, I know that God loves me, and that he has a plan and he works good out of everything. I know that he is my loving, all-powerful Father, and thus eminently trustworthy.
And still, it can sometimes seem impossible to stop worrying and just trust. I can say the words, but it’s a lot more difficult to make the emotions follow suit.
Not long ago, I stumbled upon a tiny little book by Father Jacques Philippe about St. Therese of Lisieux, entitled The Way of Trust and Love. He writes, of course, about the Little Flower and her incredible, childlike trust in God. The kind of trust that makes the rest of us feel like sinners and heathens because we can’t seem to manage to emulate it.
But he also goes into great detail about her insistence that God knows and understands our weaknesses, and that “the good God does not demand more from you than good will.”
Good will? I think I can do that!
Good will doesn’t mean being satisfied with mediocrity. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try because God loves us just as we are. It simply means that, despite our weaknesses and our humanity, if we are doing the very best we can to follow Christ, and to do what he calls us to do, God will honor that.
Which, in this case, means doing the best we can to override our natural human fear and trust him during a difficult time.
Trusting God is not primarily about our feelings. It is an act of the will. Our emotions — influenced by neurotransmitters controlled by everything from our heredity to what we had for lunch — are often out of our control, and cannot be reliable indicators of our holiness or lack thereof. But we can still decide that, no matter what our emotions may be doing, the rational part of our minds, the part that can freely choose, is choosing to trust God. Making that choice doesn’t automatically mean that our anxiety magically and immediately disappears. It just means that we are choosing, to the extent we are able, to trust him.
As we continue to override our fear and surrender to God despite the anxiety, frequently something beautiful will gradually begin to happen. We will begin to feel a sense of peace that overcomes the fear. When that happens, it is beautiful. But it is not our doing. We are utterly incapable of making it happen. It is his action, his Spirit moving in our hearts, overriding our hormones and our emotions to allow us to begin to experience that “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Ironically, the most notable time I have experienced that peace was when I actually had cancer. It came the night I was waiting for my final diagnosis, when I was praying in the Blessed Sacrament chapel and I said “Well, I guess if you want me, I’m coming.” In acknowledging my complete powerlessness and dependence on him in the midst of an actual crisis, he gave me a deep sense of peace that lasted throughout my treatment.
So I know it can happen.
If there is one thing that is certain in life, it is that difficult times will come — for me and for all of us. When they do, I highly recommend, even if your anxiety is off the charts, repeating over and over this line from the Novena of Surrender: “Jesus, I surrender all to you. Take care of everything.”
And, in the ways known only to him, believe that he will.