And your grief will turn to joy

“How on earth did it come to me…I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

~Frodo to Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

I have to admit that maybe I went into the exploratory laparotomy a bit on the cocky side. After speaking with the doctor and being told what to expect, I felt like this procedure would be a breeze and I would be back on my feet in no time.  Boy, was I ever mistaken in this assumption.

I discovered the intense reality of my situation; I really, honestly and truly, had cancer.

I went into that surgery on September 7, 2016 in high spirits; however, after 9 hours of surgery and the loss of my sigmoid colon, 3 feet of small bowel containing 155 tumors, an aggressive resection of the liver removing 15 tumors, the removal of my shriveled gall bladder, laden with both with an uncounted number of tumors and stones, and the removal of 33 lymph nodes, 14 of which contained tumors, I found myself in the ICU in guarded condition and in need of 3 blood transfusions.  Tied down by tubes sticking in almost every place imaginable, unable to move on my own, and certainly unable to get out of bed unassisted, I discovered the intense reality of my situation; I really, honestly and truly, had cancer.

To understand why this came as such a shock, I need to rewind back two years to a dark, isolated room at Portsmouth Naval Hospital.  I was in the emergency department of my local hospital only days before with stomach pain and had been told I might possibly have cancer.  After having every bodily system imaginable tested, scanned, poked, and prodded, an MRI confirmed the lesions in my liver were indeed cancer.  My first thoughts went to my husband, who was combat deployed at the time, and the need to stay strong for both him and our three kids.  I denied myself the time to process and grieve my diagnosis. Instead, I put on a strong facade and plunged forward with the diagnostic testing and worked to find a doctor who specialized in my rare cancer.  Never once did I stop to think of myself, my possible prognosis, or what this might mean for my future; my husband’s safety and my kids emotional well-being took center stage.  Waking up that evening in the ICU after the laparotomy brought that strong facade crashing down around me and for the very first time I actually cried over my condition, the possible prognosis, and what the future may have in store.

During this time of unrestrained grief, I could not help but think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Frodo, and his intense reaction to the discovery that the ring in his possession was one of immense evil.  As Gandalf relates the story of how he came to know Frodo’s ring was indeed the “one” ring, Frodo is fear-stricken.  In both fear and grief he cries out:

“…How on earth did it come to me…I wish it had not have happened in my time” (Tolkien 50).

The knowledge of what he now faced was overwhelming and threatened to destroy his comfortable life.  This is so similar to how it feels to be diagnosed with a chronic health condition, after the knowledge that something of such intense evil is lurking within, life will never, ever be the same again.

Was Frodo wrong to lament the impending loss? Was he wrong to wish it away? Sometimes I think that he was; sometimes I honestly think that it shows weakness of character to question the evil that life throws in the path and that, in the tradition of the best of Stoics, to stand firm against the raging storm and just laugh in the face of danger; however, in reading God’s word I have discovered that what Frodo did was the human reaction; it was the reaction that God expects, and even welcomes, of his people.  It is His desire for us to call out to Him in our grief and to question our circumstances so He can in turn make us whole again.

Sprinkled throughout the Book of Psalms are laments to God.  The psalmist calls out in his distress, laying before a holy God the things that pain his soul, whether those be physical complaints, the pressing in of enemies, or a general frustration with life.  Listen to the cry:

  • “O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before thee…incline thy ear to my cry” (GNV Ps 88.1-2).
  • “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou hearest me” (GNV Ps 86.7).
  • “The sorrows of the grave have compassed me about: the snares of death over took me. But in my trouble did I call upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his Temple, and my cry did come before him; even into his ears” (GNV Ps 18.5-6).
  • “Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me, for my soul trusteth in thee, and in the shadow of thy wings will I trust, till these afflictions overpass” (GNV Ps 57.1)
  • “Why standest thou far off, O Lord, and hidest thee in due time, even in affliction” (GNV Ps 10.1).
  • “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, forever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from  me? How long shall I take counsel within myself having weariness daily in mine heart? how long shall mine enemy be exalted above me” (GNV Ps 13.1-2)?
  • “I am like water poured out, and all my bones are out of joint; mine heart is like wax.  It is molten in the midst of my bowels.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (GNV Ps 22.14-15).

God invites us to lay our petitions at His feet.  He invites us to cry out in affliction, question why we are so oppressed, and wonder if He will ever answer our cries for help. As human beings, we need this.  We need to verbally express our grief, to share with a benevolent God our pains and frustrations and petition for relief from pain.  To hold on to such grief is only to prolong the inevitable breakdown, or to become bitter, cynical, and angry that God has not provided a relief we have not sought Him to bestow.

 To hold on to such grief is only to prolong the inevitable breakdown, or to become bitter, cynical, and angry that God has not provided a relief we have not sought Him to bestow.

Go ahead, cry out to Jesus.  Lay all your pain and frustration at His feet. Cry. Scream. Question. Even shake a fist in the air.  Let all the grief flow, leaving the body and all the toxic effects it causes if held in for too long.  He is a big God, He can take it; besides, He already knows all that your heart contains so why hold on to the pain?  James tell us that we do not have because we do not ask, so why wait any longer (RSV Ja 4.2)? Let your innermost pain out, lay it at the feet of the Savior and watch your grief be turned to joy.

Works Cited

The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Permanent Text Edition. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web.

The Holy Bible Geneva Bible 1599 Edition.  Tolle Lege Press. Web.

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Fellowship of the Ring. Being the first part of the LORD OF THE RINGS. Houghton:Boston. 1984. Print.

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