You can call it cause, calling, or life purpose. Some would expand the concept to proverbial philosophical question about the meaning of life. Sometimes your calling or purpose is clear, sometimes it is ambiguous. Many people struggle with the question of their purpose for years or decades. Some for their entire life.
A month ago, I was wrestling with my own idea of purpose for my retirement years. My heart was in refugees, especially those from Arabic-speaking countries. I felt that I was entering a new season of life where the cause would be more ambiguous. Now, that dream must be suspended but my cause has never been clearer.
Previously, during my professional career, I had seen my purpose of fighting the suffering of headaches. Headache disorders are part of the great darkness the grips humanity. That has been one of my great causes for the past 35 years.
There are times and situations that coerce you into a cause. While that calling is not by choice, it does give clarity to one’s life’s journey.
One of those situations is when you have children. As a parent, your previous primary purpose suddenly becomes relegated beneath the new primary purpose of raising those children to be safe, happy, and to be a positive influence on the world.
Many moons ago, when I was part of an evangelical group, they had this view that God has a specific “calling” for each of our lives and it was our responsibility to find that cause. It was often suggested, directly, or implied, that if you don’t find that cause, God would kill you. Seriously. The terms they used were that you could have an accident or cancer. The point is, if you are not working toward this grand purpose, God has no use for you on this planet and would “call you home.” Once that cause was found, it superseded all else. It was more important than the cause of raising your children (mentioned above) or for our spouses. My very last big study (took months to complete) when I was in a Navigator (nondenominational Christian organization) training center was “Seeking God’s Calling for My Life.” There was profound pressure that we become missionaries. I think five of us in the training center (out of about 7 guys) went to the mission field. I determined that my calling was to Muslims in the Middle East.
The architype of this type of calling or cause was the father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey. He felt called to convert India to Christianity and went out from England with his wife, Dorthy, who did not want to go and did not feel so called. The times in India were harsh. They lost three young children to different causes and his wife then, literally, went insane. Read more here: (https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-36/william-careys-less-than-perfect-family-life.html). Yet, William Carey would not give up and became a missionary hero (after sending his wife home to England to die in an insane asylum).
Yes, I found my “calling” to be a missionary to Muslims, with the life goal of converting them to Christianity. Like our group emphasized, this calling had to over-rule everything else. I’m tempted to go down the rabbit hole of why that was so wrong, but I will let it go as not to make this post too long. But I will say, we came home from the mission field due to the suffering of my children (after I had a major break from evangelisms).
When one is given the diagnosis of incurable cancer, suddenly fighting that cancer becomes the new calling or cause. It is not a cause of choice, but you suddenly become conscripted into this ferocious war. The only choice that you have, is check out, by letting the cancer take you out or taking your own life.
If I were single, with no kids or living parents, taking my own life would be a reasonable choice, rather than taking this long, painful and expensive journey. It will cost a million dollars to tame this beast inside of me. Don’t worry, taking my own is not on my radar unless the suffering becomes unbearable. I did have a young nurse in the hospital three weeks ago suggested that I might want to consider suicide rather than starting this fight. I was profoundly shocked at her suggestion. I sense that in her youth, maybe 22, that I she saw me as too old to be salvageable.
So, for all practical purposes, I have no choice in this fight. I am not brave as to choose to take this journey. I am anxious little Frodo Baggins, swept up in a war with the Dark Lord Sauron or with the Orcs. I have nothing but a short little sword (thank goodness Orcs are easily killed) and a magic ring.
Now, with great clarity, I am called to this war and that automatically supersedes all else. But here is how I see this cause. Cancer is part of the darkness in this world. In my view, this universe that we live in, is about 90% glorious and spectacular. I love it! But about 10% is horrid and terrible. Evil is real. The horrid is the Christian concept of the “Fall.” Pantheism tries to explain evil in other ways. The atheist has no explanation because there is no difference between good and evil in that paradigm (as I said in another post, I respect the atheist because I almost ended up there, but I cut them no slack in their denial of nihilism).
The purpose of this fight is to survive. It is to conquer. It is to live against the odds and against the purpose of the cancer to kill me. Cancer loses when we live.
I do not live in denial. I know that death is a card on the table. During my first five days of this disease, it looked like death was the ONLY card on the table. It seemed, (my biased impression) that the only thing that people in the hospital wanted to talk to me about was preparing for death. I planned my funeral. I said what I had to say to my kids and wife. I finally asked people—when they kept asking me if I had thought about death—that death as the ONLY thing I as thinking of, but can’t we have some hope? This process was very, very sad.
But having the death card on the table is not unique to me. Everyone has that card on the table, but they often don’t make eye contact with it. None of us get out of this universe without death. Death can appear out of the blue in the form of terrible diseases or accidents to anyone. In m MM support online support group are people in their twenties with this horrible disease.
I had a Christian friend, in college, who had an inoperable brain tumor. He as one of the greatest people I had ever met. He felt like his calling, with his disease, was to die well. What he meant, was to die as a good Christian. He wanted to face death without fear and full of faith. He wanted to sing hymns, praising God up until his last breath. Sorry, if someone expects that from me, I will greatly disappoint them.
I will never judge how someone else deals with cancer and death. But I will compare it to the way I deal with it.
I have no desire to go out as a good Christian, for the same reason I don’t watch Hallmark movies. I prefer to live in reality. My pastor once said, during a children’s story, that some people see Heaven as a land of rainbows and unicorns. I almost shouted out, as in impulse, “That sounds more like hell.” Because I love this material universe so very much, I will go out with my claws dug deeply within the dirt, hanging on until the last breath. I will fight this beast of cancer with both tooth and nail.
Many Christians think that we should be Heavenly-minded from day one. That it should be our desire to leave this horrible universe and go to Heaven where the streets are paved with gold and we have wings. Sorry, I don’t ascribe to that interpretation. I ascribe to the idea (see N.T Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church) that this universe is wonderful, and that God’s intention is that we are part of this universe now and forever. That God is clear in plan to repair this universe (fix the 10% of evil) and fix our bodies to live here forever. Somehow, and it is a mystery, that we step back into this wonderful, repaired universe, with new bodies the moment we die. Jesus did say to the thief on the cross that I will see you in the great garden (paradise, as used here, was a Persian word that means great garden) TODAY.
To step gently around another rabbit hole, I will point out that the reason that the earth=bad, Heaven=good, mentality of most Christians is that the Church, unfortunately, adopted the Greek notion of Platonic Dualism in their metaphysical view of the universe. Within that paradigm, this dirty earth is 90% horrible and therefore we should be eager to get out of this shithole place and into the mystical Heaven. Okay, look up those terms (okay not shithole) if you want to go down that rabbit hole on your own (or read my book Butterflies in the Belfry as I go into much detail about this).
A physician friend of mine also declared that he wanted to die well. He had a terminal blood cancer, which had fought for years. However, at the end, he planned everything, down to the smallest detail. He died as a noble physician. If you expect that from me, I will disappoint you.
So, I must don my skimpy armor and pick up my sword and shied and march into hell to give all I have to kick cancer in the balls and to cut its nasty heart out, not because I have courage but because I have no choice. This is now my determined cause. I pray that I prevail. If chemo and then stem cell transplant works, I can live 10 years. Within 10 years, a new cure may appear. That is my hope. Mike