by Joanie Butman
This month marked another milestone – the ten-year anniversary of my first surgery. One of the benefits of facing a life-threatening disease is that it changes your perception on many things. Aging is one of them. No longer is growing old something to dread but a privilege to be celebrated. Perhaps that’s why I have no trouble embracing becoming a sexagenarian. That title seems a little suggestive for someone entering her sixth decade. Is that some kind of cosmic joke?
All kidding aside, it takes decades to grow into yourself – to discover and allow the person God intended to emerge. Being gifted a stay of execution has enabled me to pursue that journey of discovery with more focus and humility. Why? Because it was only through suffering that the Light for which I’d been searching was revealed in an intimate and personal way. And the longer I live the brighter it gets, so bring on the candles. Each one of them doesn’t represent more years or wrinkles to me, but another aspect of the Divine I’ve unearthed by letting my life play out according to His will and timing.
Now, that’s not to say that there are fortunate individuals who don’t need to suffer or search as long as me to develop a deep, personal relationship with God. Everyone has their own journey to travel, and its route and duration are as numerous as the stars in the sky. This week one of my devotions suggested something that had never occurred to me. Even Jesus had to go through the human process of growing into Himself and waiting for God’s timing to begin His mission of salvation.
At Jesus’ baptism God proclaims Christ’s identity as His beloved Son: a fact that only the Holy Family was privy to up to then. As tempting as it might have been, I don’t think Mary and Joseph were bragging about His deity in their annual Christmas card. I’ve always considered Christ’s baptism more of a confirmation, marking the culmination of His formative years and the beginning of His work on our behalf.
Other than the story in Luke 2:41-52 about Jesus going AWOL at 12, nothing is written about His youth or young adulthood, but one has to assume He experienced the same growing pains as the rest of us. He had to learn how to walk before He could run, and so do we, in more ways than one. Spiritually, I crawled, toddled, walked and stumbled a lot through my formative years, which I’m still in by the way. I continue to trip frequently but rebound quicker the older and wiser I get. I don’t mean wise in Bible knowledge or religious theology, but experiential wisdom where suffering played a major role.
Why has it taken 50 years to figure out my Divine purpose and why did it have to involve suffering? Perhaps because it was only then that I was truly emptied of all else (including a number of organs), which gave God room to move in. It was through suffering that my faith was tested and proven. I don't believe for a minute that God causes our suffering. Life, and we, do a good job of that on our own. However, God uses our suffering - not so we can prove ourselves to Him, but so He can prove His faithfulness to us. It's a Divine transaction whereby He takes our test and turns it into our testimony.
It was in my pain that I met Jesus face-to-face. I suppose it was my own baptism/confirmation moment where I heard God speak to my heart, “You are my beloved child whom I love.” Only after I finally recognized and believed that truth, in the deepest fabric of my being, did my life take on new meaning and purpose as I continue to discover my own ways to mirror His light into the world. I knew then that regardless of what happened, I would be all right whether it was with Him here or in eternity.
Therefore, you can see why I choose to celebrate the anniversary of my first surgery ten years ago. It represents a different kind of “birthday” – one that marks the beginning of a marvelous adventure with God, content with the uncertainties of life. I’ve learned to let His Divine Light lead the way instead of choosing to run ahead (or away) from Him as in my youth. I didn’t know where I was going then either – I was just too stupid and/or arrogant to realize it. So many years wasted chasing my own tail when what I needed was inside me all along. As C. S. Lewis comments, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: Pain is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I gratefully celebrate that moment ten years ago when cancer abruptly stopped me in my tracks. The imposed stillness that followed allowed me to feel God's presence, peace and love on a deeper and more intimate level.
What kind of spiritual milestones do you choose to celebrate?