Talking Cancer

July 18, 2012

Ephesians 4:15

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."

Reflection by Lillian Daniel

When we talk to people who are going through a very difficult time, we often don't know what to say. We try to be encouraging and instead we say something that annoys the person. Or we say nothing and later find out that they wondered if we cared. How do you get it right with the people you love? I think listening is key. It's fine to ask someone, "What would help now?" And then, if you are ready for the answer, try asking, "What did not help?"

But we can't always have those direct conversations with those we love. So sometimes we have to do our listening not with our ears, but with our eyes, by reading he the wise words of people who have experienced something we have not.

In the book Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith and Accepting Grace, Deanna Thompson describes the year in her life when she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A professor of theology at Hamline University and a young mother of two, she has written an amazingly personal book about what it is like to live with cancer. One of my favorite chapters is called "Having Cancer, Talking Cancer," and it is about all the comforting and uncomforting things people have said to her along the way.

I learned so much by reading this book, as a pastor, friend, and mother. In Hoping for More, you get to eavesdrop on the intimate thoughts of someone worth listening to. In the end, her deepest theological insights are not about cancer but about life itself.

Sometimes, when we can't communicate with the ones we love, we can find a wise word in a book that then gives us the courage to try to speak in person again. I give thanks for all the people who have the courage to tell the truth and write it down, so that we can learn from their experience.

Prayer

Thank you for the writers who teach us how to listen. Amen.

About the Author
Lillian Daniel is the senior minister of the First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She is the author, with Martin Copenhaver, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.

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