I have to admit that these last few weeks have been very difficult. Since being diagnosed with cancer I have become almost a literal shut-in. I have very little contact with the outside world anymore and it is beginning to wear heavily on my soul. Today, as I sit before the computer, the tears are flowing uncontrollably and I cannot seem to hold a coherent thought in my head. I honestly cannot imagine how I can continue to live life in such seclusion and retain any semblance of sanity; something needs to give. As I was praying over this predicament, God gave me a vision of windswept sand. The wind was blowing, sending the sands rippling in waves across an open desert. It was both beautiful and terrifying. The vision lasted only a brief moment and left me with the following words echoing in mind:
“I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it” (NIV Jer 5.22).
In the very beginning, God’s spirit hovered over the waters, bringing forth from chaos the sea, earth, and heavens (NIV Ge 1.2). It was by his word that their boundaries were set and the earth was cleared for habitation (NIV Ge 1.2; 9-10; Ps 104.5-9; Job 38.8-11). All that we see in the natural world was set in place, being held together by the Word of God. Although the sea may crash against its established boundary, it will never succeed in crossing over this boundary that God has lovingly established (NIV Jn 1.1-2; Col 1.17).
Jesus tells us that sand can also be a symbol for instability, for it is the foolish man who builds his house on the sand (NIV Mt 7.26). When one hears the teachings of Christ and fails to put them into practice, it is like he built his house on the sand and when the waters come, all he has established is washed away. As I was walking along the beach during our vacation, this illustration was tangibly demonstrated. I stopped in the surf to watch several kids playing and when the tide pulled out I could feel the sand washing away from underneath my feet, dragging me into a hole that was difficult to walk out of as the waves continued to crash on the shore, and wash away more sand as it receded. It took a tremendous amount of effort to move to the shoreline where the waves were not as intense and the sand more stable.
After we returned to our campsite, I thought about this experience in light of God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 5 verse 22. I have been living my life since the cancer diagnosis on the slippery sands and not allowing God’s word to soak into my being or rest on his promises. I have been intent on taking matters into my own hands and facing this disease by my own power. I have subconsciously pushed people away from me out of fear since the beginning of my illness. I have brought into adulthood lessons I learned as a child; it is dangerous to allow people to see my vulnerability, for it becomes ammunition against me at a later time. Cancer has made me vulnerable, it has revealed my weaknesses, and it has been terrifying. There is no way I can allow anyone but my closest family to see me in such a condition. As a result, I have built up walls around my disease that keeps people at a safe distance and have left me isolated and alone.
I am that foolish builder who has refused to hear God’s word and put it into practice. God tells us that we need community. He tells us that we are to bear one another burdens because this fulfills the law of Christ (NIV Ga 6.2). Speaking through the Psalmist, God declares the beauty of dwelling in harmony with these words:
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (NIV Ps 133.1)!
He reassures us that when two or three are gathered in his name that he will be among them (NIV Mt 18.20). He also encourages the body of believers to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and to make sure that we do:
“…not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV Heb 10.24-25).
I have failed to put God’s word into practice. I have stared into the mirror and walked away, forgetting the image reflected back to me. I am one who sees in a glass darkly and does not understand what it truly means to experience the unbridled love of God (NIV 1 Co 13). James has strong words for people like me:
“…because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (NIV Jas 1.6-7).
I think that by sending me an image of sand, God was trying to show me that I have neglected the more important matters of law and, like the Pharisees, I have strained out a gnat while swallowing a camel (NIV Mt 23.23).
The verse in James brings me to the second element of the vision God gave me, the wind. As used in this particular verse, to be blown about by the wind means to be lead astray by any doctrine that my itching ears may want to hear (NIV 2 Ti 4.3). I have found teachers, secular teachers, who are willing to tell me that it is okay to feel the need to isolate when I’m sick. That it is okay to not be willing to participate in the world outside my door because looking after my health is so much more important. I have failed to adhere to sound doctrine and as a result I am being tossed about on the waves that lead to nothingness. The author of Ecclesiastes compares the doctrine I have chosen to live by as a “chasing after the wind” (NIV 1.14).
This brings me back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, for when one chooses to build on the sand, when the winds come all that he has created is washed away. The winds that come with having cancer are beating against the walls of my house, threatening to uproot me spiritually and carry me away with the doctrines of this world (NIV Mt 7.24). However, I think the most vivid Scriptural reference for this vision God sent to me comes from the prophet Habakkuk as he speaks of the horsemen of Babylon:
“…their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand…then they sweep past like the wind and go on- guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (NIV 1.9, 11).
In the desert there is nothing to resist the wind. It sweeps over everything and constantly changes the landscape. As it roars, what it leaves behind is totally unrecognizable making navigation of the desert impossible. I need the map provided me in God’s holy word to keep me on the path. I need his love and guidance as I navigate through life and face the challenge of cancer head on with confidence and a sure guidepost that will never fail me. I have relied on my own strength as my god for way too long and it has only allowed me to run around in circles and isolate myself, bringing me to the point of utter despair.
Thankfully God is a God of second chances. Thankfully he has given me a vision that details the source of my pain and has handed me wisdom from his word to help me pick up the pieces and move forward. It is never too late and God is faithful. The sea has been crashing against the sand, but God has not allowed it to leave its boundaries, keeping me safe and secure. The waves have rolled and they have roared, but they have not been allowed to prevail, for God has made good on his promise that I have not been tempted beyond what I can bear and he has faithfully provided me a way out (NIV 1 Co 10.13). Now is the time for me to stand firm on the solid rock, put into practice the words of Christ, and walk across the waves of my despair to true freedom.