The hours tick slowly between the time the doctor removes the “mysterious” mass from your body and the results return. Then, if you are fortunate enough to get “good” results from the kind doctor or nurse there is plenty more to process. With a giant smile on his/her face you may hear they got it all and you are all clear. And, if they are the praying type they may even toss in a “Praise the Lord” at the end (especially here in the South). You should be jumping up and down from the good news but instead you may feel more empty and confused.
Each of us are on a journey to health and wholeness in this life, we are all in some mode of recovery. Those of us who are recovering from physically life-threatening situations often hear words like "Praise the Lord" and instead of feeling comfort, we are left feeling alone, especially when you expect us to be celebrating the outcome of the biopsy or test. We are considered healthy again, right?
It is as simple as that added “Praise the Lord.” Trust me, survivors want to praise the Lord. We do. But, there is something about having growing tumors or cancerous cells taken from you that requires a time of mourning as well.
If you've heard my story, you know I’m a survivor of melanoma skin cancer, brain surgery, and stroke (among a few other autoimmune disorders and losses that my body has had to process over my relatively short 38 years). Recently, I had what was considered minor surgery to remove a small benign mass growing in my chin. At first, we thought it may have been an extra tooth and that seemed somewhat okay but after experiencing some pretty invasive oral surgery I was told we don't really know what it was or why it was growing inside my body. The words benign came from the surgeon and then the “Praise the Lords" started flowing in from those who care about me and my health. This experience reminded me of all the “Praise the Lords” that flowed freely after my brain surgery. Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful “whatever it was” is gone but if that's your only response, I don't think you've had anything foreign removed from your body. Please don’t be offended if these are the first words that come out of your mouth when someone announces their cancer or biopsy was benign (I’ve said it myself). In the future, just consider following it up with a “how are you?” Here is why…
Many years later, I now understand I am not the only one who has experienced the “Praise the Lord...leaves me feeling empty” syndrome. It's pretty common. I’ve journeyed with patients who are struggling to find emotional freedom in the “good news” and it is true for many of us. A best friend confided in me that those words are hard to process. This is one of those friends who showed up on my doorstep to feed my family, drive me to the store, and do chores around my house during one of my toughest times of my recovery. She recently faced her own life-threatening health challenge (so while she has seen me raw and real, she personally gets it now too because, unfortunately, she recently joined the club as a melanoma survivor). This week she told me about hearing the "Praise The Lord" response after her lymph nodes were removed and given the all-clear. It may sound sacrilegious, but hearing “Praise The Lord” is not what you want to hear when you've been cut on and dug in so recently.
What you want to also hear is what the HECK Lord (and that is being kind). What you want to scream is, what was growing in my body and why? When did it pop up and how long had it been there? Will it come back? What if I hadn't taken care of it? Now what do I do about this scar that everyone is asking about and I just want to forget? And, what do I do without lymph nodes? Do I see a therapist to process this all (by the way, the answer to that one is most likely yes). Am I horrible because the last thing I want to do is “Praise The Lord?” Will I ever forget this?
And the answer to the last question is no. No, you will never forget this experience because it's part of you now. Your recovery may seem like it is tearing you apart but really it is making you whole again. And, praising the Lord may seem like the only appropriate response for those who don't live with the side effects of whatever you've gone through. But, thanking the Lord for another day on this earth may be a great place to start. Thanking the Lord for an opportunity to hear the birds sing, watch the water flow, and see the little ones grow, that is why we praise the Lord.
Here is my point - it's perfectly okay to know and understand that your life will never be the same after health crisis. Your life will be forever changed by the scar, or the side effects, or the limp, or the pain that no one else can feel or maybe even see. The memories and fears that no one else will have experienced may not be understood by another earthly being but the comfort is that they are understood by your God. He has been with you every step of the way. This is your journey. So, while we may cringe when we are encouraged to show praise, we can start with a tiny show of our thanks the Lord. It's a great place to start.
For every survivor who lives through cancer, stroke, or brain surgery. For every survivor who faces chronic pain or debilitating disease. For every survivor, this reminder to “Praise the Lord” by those well-meaning encouragers is not meant to take away from your healing experience it is meant to add hope to it by encouraging us to "Thank the Lord."
So, how are you?
Encouraging verses for physical healing and recovery:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 NIV
"We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." - Romans 5:3-5 CEB
When You Struggle to "Praise The Lord” is Part 1 in a series for those exploring peace during physical recovery. Part 2: What To Do (when someone you know faces health crisis) coming soon.
Whitney R. Simpson
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