So my treatment has suddenly moved up a gear.
In addition to the hormone therapy I am receiving, I start 5 days of radiotherapy later this week, and chemotherapy next month. Like other cancer patients, I am going to have destructive beams and chemicals pumped into my body on a regular basis. Suddenly, it has all become very real.
The hope is that these treatments will kill enough of the cancer cells to keep everything under control.
The other hope in my life comes from prayer. Since my last post, I have been overwhelmed by people saying they will be praying for me, and I am acutely aware that hundreds, if not thousands of people are praying for myself and Mel, Isaac and Iona.
I have to say that I have a chequered history with prayer for healing.
In my teens and twenties, I saw some remarkable answers to prayer. I saw people healed, physically and emotionally. I saw heroin addicts come off drugs with little or no side effects in response to prayer, when they had tried many times before and given up, because withdrawal was unbearable.
Yet when my wife was horrifically injured in 2003 with excruciatingly painful and life threatening injuries, I sat by her hospital bed day after day for months, praying for God to ease her pain – all to no effect.
Coming on top of questions about why God let her accident happen, this daily disappointment left my prayer life scarred for years. I became unable to reach out to others in prayer, and only began to find my own healing last year, for the scars this left on my soul. (See ‘Healed to Pray’ for more.) As a result of that inner healing, I have felt able to pray for others again in the way I used to. I have not seen dramatic results, but have been aware of God moving in and through those prayers.
When it comes to praying for myself however, the block still remains. Why would God answer prayers for me, when he wouldn’t answer my prayers for Mel?
So while I have valued all the messages of prayers from friends around the world, I have found it difficult to believe that God would answer. My name has been added to prayer lists and candles have been lit in all kinds of Christian communities, from Pentecostal intercessory prayer groups, to Convents and Abbeys, and I am deeply grateful. I just wish I had more faith that God would answer them.
Yet when I visited Southwark Cathedral last week, around the anniversary of my ordination there, I felt drawn to light a candle and much to my surprise, found myself simply praying “Lord, in your mercy, heal me”.
As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that I don’t know how effective my radio and chemo therapy will be, but I am still going ahead with them. I hope they will have a beneficial outcome and extend my life, but I don’t know how much good they will do. Similarly with prayer, I don’t know how God will answer the many prayers being offered on my behalf, but why should I be any less hopeful that they will have a positive effect?
I find myself standing alongside a man who brought his child to Jesus to heal him. When Jesus said to him that everything is possible for one who believes, he replied, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9)
Not that prayer is predictable, of course. It does not follow clearly defined rules. It is not like a political petition, where the greater the number of signatures, the better the chance of being noticed. In the end we are all subject to God’s will, both active and passive.
I am reading ‘Fear No Evil’ by David Watson at the moment. It is his story of his struggle and death from cancer at the height of his ministry. He had seen God heal many people at services he led, and hoped for God’s healing for himself, all to no avail. John Wimber’s story is not dissimilar. So even if there seems to be no discernible answer to prayer, I feel that I will be in good company (if a little overshadowed!).
All things considered, I am choosing to be hopeful.
Hopeful in the radio and chemo therapies I will soon be receiving, and hopeful in God for the prayers which are being prayed for me. They are part and parcel of my treatment and I will embrace them both, with a mixture of belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, hope and realism.
So thank you to everyone who is praying for me, and if you have time, please continue to do just that.