Excuse my little rant. I haven't done this in a while, but this has me fired up
You have probably come across the great AP piece on Pastor Matt Chandler of Village Church in Dallas’ battle with inoperable cancer. It is well done and covers the bases as such article should. Sure, in a major AP piece, it would have been interesting to hear accounts from those that may have a different theological take on suffering, etc. But, I cannot quibble about such a minor thing.
I do take issue with the idea that he is suffering well, when compared to others which is the article’s title (even if I agree that according to his own faith story, he is). While his example is powerful and can lead to a different approach to suffering for some patients, including it may lead to guilt for those that suffer differently (which is not Chanlder’s idea or even the article’s. I believe the title comes from a quote by Mark Driscoll).
What I can quibble about is some of the reaction to Matt Chandler’s cancer, evident in one quote from the article and in the blogosphere (has the phrase “in the blogosphere” ever preceded something positive?). Hastened by John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Cancer blog posting from a few years ago, they declare Chanlder is not wasting his cancer either. In it, Piper, suffering from cancer at the time, gave 10 teaching points on how one wastes their cancer. While I do not like the semantics behind “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” and find it discourteous that anyone wastes something in which they feel immeasurable pain and the idea of death because their body attacks itself, I gave Piper grace because he speaks out of his own experience. And, I think any cancer patient can say whatever they want to cope and to survive.
However, because of the way Matt Chandler is approaching one of the worst diagnoses fathomable, especially to someone with a young family, with evident reliance upon his faith, family and church, many are saying “he is not wasting his cancer.” Let me explain something as one that has not experienced cancer personally, but has had friends and family diagnosed and die of the disease, and one that through my role as Director of Spiritual Care for a hospice has seen what cancer patients go through as they deal with the end of their lives here on earth… No One Wastes their Cancer. It is not something to waste. It is something that wastes you. Yes, you can approach it with grace, faith and strength, which I hope you do. You can feel as if you are wasting your own cancer, but don’t put in on anyone else!
But, however you deal with your cancer is not for me to judge. You can be angry. You can be depressed. You can scream when the pain comes and you can ask for the most powerful pain medication available. It is your cancer and your burden. You can handle it however you are able. I just hope you don’t give up hope and I hope you find healing (internal and eternal, not necessarily external). I hope you find people to lean on. I hope that you lean directly on God (and as a chaplain, I will help you walk through whatever spiritual understanding you have).
While Matt Chandler is dealing with his cancer in a way true to his belief system and his life pre-cancer, I would not be so arrogant to say that he was wasting it if he had reacted differently than John Piper has. It is his cancer and his reaction and beyond the comprehension or judgment of another human being. Just because he is reacting in a way they like does not mean a hill of beans to anyone else.
I am praying for Matt Chandler. I don’t know him, but we have mutual friends. I am not interested in his theological position or leadership position in the church when I pray for him. I couldn’t care less. He is a man with 3 young children and a wife he is worried about. As a dad of 3 kids below 10, I know enough to feel confident in how to pray for him as a husband and dad. That is all I need to do and know.
In case you are wondering what quotes I am speaking of, here is Mark Driscoll from the AP article, "If he suffers well, that might be the most important sermon he's ever preached." Who decides if he is “suffering well”? Does Driscoll? Do I? How much pressure of “suffering well” according to others does he need?
On his twitter feed,Dr. Al Mohler* says “not wasting his cancer” before retweeting the AP article and another blogger says “Praise God that Chandler is not wasting his cancer” here. I get what they are trying to say, but they putunintentional pressure on every cancer patient to react in a predetermined RIGHT way that may not be how they deal with such a dire diagnosis. Not every Biblical character reacted to life and death issues in the same way and not every person should be expected to act in a way that we (as non cancer patients) decide is RIGHT.
If you want to share the article, talk about his faith and how he responds to suffering but don’t say anything about wasting his cancer or that he is suffering well, when others are not.
*Mohler had a cancer scare a few years ago, so I cut him some slack on this.