Prayer and the Reveal Mission
Yesterday an article about the Reveal Mission appeared in a local magazine near my home. The editor of the magazine is breast cancer survivor herself and wanted to highlight our project. We chose some magazine friendly images and she wrote the article herself.
It is coming up on three years that I have made myself available to the breast cancer world. I began by learning to listen, to provide a safe place for women and their families to talk about diagnosis, treatments, and their newest chapters of life. This journey started with a portrait, a woman with a single breast mastectomy shared by her husband, a professional photographer in Portugal. The image and their story was captivating. It encouraged me to pursue my own friends who had faced this disease. What I learned is that many of them wanted to be able to share their stories but didn’t know how to, or felt ashamed because society oversexualizes breasts, or maybe they just needed encouragement, permission, and a venue to be able to do so.
Years of professional, pastoral ministry benefit me when it comes to listening to these stories. Yet it is obvious to me that I’m not the same as when I was behind my church office desk. Now I am not expected to have answers, to come up with solutions, to offer any fix, to give religious platitudes, provide scripture, or try and make God look good in very difficult circumstances. (I can’t speak for any other ministers, this has just been my own reality.) This has taken a lot of pressure off of me. There are no ‘right or wrong’ answers when it comes to breast cancer, but there sure are a lot of decisions to make:
- Which surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon to use
- Which tests to have performed
- Whether or not to be included in a medical research trial
- Having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy
- Removing the affected breast or both
- Whether or not to go through chemotherapy
- Whether or not to install a port
- Whether or not to have radiation
- Whether or not to take follow up drugs that affect hormones
- Whether or not to force your body into menopause
- How to combat side effects from different medicines
- What do do when something isn’t working
- Whether or not to wear a prosthetic
- Whether or not to have breast reconstruction
- When to get reconstruction surgery
- Where to get the muscles and skin to complete breast reconstruction
- How far to stretch the expanders
- What size and type of implants
- Whether or not to have nipple reconstruction
- Where to get the skin for the new areolas and nipples
- Whether or not to use micropigmentation/medical tattooing instead of nipple surgery
- Whether or not to be involved with the Reveal Mission
I have friends that have made different decisions with each of the above processes. I can stand with all of them because surviving isn’t a black and white world. There is no preferred course and this is no magic cure.
So when I received an email this morning, from a man who read the article in the Eagle magazine and had a solution for me, I was undone. He belongs to a local church and helps lead their healing-prayer team.
I read his message over and over. He was kind with his words. He complimented me on my photography and mentioned that I must obviously care for these women. But then his next comment exposed his real reason for writing me, “These women do not have to suffer through chemotherapy, etc. I see many people healed of cancer through Jesus.” Then he listed Bible verses, an example of a physical healing, and a link to a video for me to watch.
Though possibly not intended his message came across as this – “If you really care about these women, you would just send them our way so we can lay hands on them and cast out their disease.”
I’m struggling to write him a kind response.
Here is what I know – my faith, is not in crisis. Though I have many fewer answers than I used to pretend that I had, I am still very much a man of faith.
I even have the benefit of having experienced and witnessed physical healings, some in my own family. My grandmother had pancreatic cancer and was given four months to live when I was a small boy. My grandfather – an alcoholic and very wayward Catholic – fell to his knees when he got the news and told God he would never drink again if he healed my grandmother. Why his desperate prayer was heeded I don’t know but my Grandfather never drank again (though he did lose two legs to diabetes and ultimately his life before he was 70), and my grandmother lived to see my youngest son at the age I was when she was diagnosed to die, some thirty years later.
If there was some sort of healthy pattern in my Grandpa’s prayer I would follow it.
If there was some real guarantee by the man who sent me the email I would happily advertise his church and prayer team, but the reality is, there isn’t. For as many healings as that church wants to claim, there are twice as many ailments and just as many deaths.
Faith isn’t a cure.
Yet faith still empowers me.
No, I don’t make it a habit of ‘laying on of hands’ when I meet with a woman who has breast cancer. In fact, since I am often taking pictures of them revealing their scars I am careful not to touch them at all. But I also don’t hesitate on giving them one of my hands to grip during the middle of a procedure or exam. And I get a lot of chest to chest hugs (though many of them don’t have the nerve endings to feel it any longer). And the last time one of them kissed me it was from her deathbed and I don’t think that I’ve ever received such a holy kiss.
So while I am always desperately in prayer for each of my friends, if forced to make a choice I will opt for acts of love and being physically and emotionally present rather than emphasizing a particular theology and repeating religious words. But then, that is how I experience the life and story of Jesus.