Christians and Culture Dr. Tim Woodroof
I have lived a privileged life, cocooned from the harsher realities of existence by education, opportunity, giftedness, and (relative) wealth. Few of my struggles have been “life-threatening.” Rarely have my wrestlings involved survival. A troublesome church member or two, certainly. The chaffings of traditions and the inefficiencies of church systems, without doubt. But nothing that you might call “elemental.”
A Life-Changing Experience
Three months ago, my daughter Sarah had a tumor removed from the inside of her skull. I am spending this week with her in Baltimore, as she treks daily to Johns Hopkins and undergoes radiation treatments intended to remove any last vestige of cancerous cells from her head.
An experience like this changes you. At least, it is changing me. I see the world differently.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so helpless in my life, so out of control. I—who enjoy a wide reputation and exercise considerable influence in certain areas—am completely powerless here. I can only watch and smile courage and beg God as my daughter nods exhausted after treatment.
Suddenly the prayers of others mean a great deal to me. Before, I was the one whose prayers were sought, who agreed to bow my head and intercede for others’ children, marriages, or souls. But now I need the prayers. I am desperate for prayers. I plead with people to pray for Sarah. (I’m begging you to do so. No, not tonight, not in some nebulous future. Stop right now! Pray! I beg you.) I ask total strangers met in airports and restaurants to pray. I am hungry for prayers with a ravening, greedy eagerness I have never known before.
I sit in the waiting room and watch gowned apparitions float past me—gaunt and drawn. Young men made old by disease and the desperate measures used to combat it . . . old women reduced to cadaverous husks by the betrayal of their own bodies. I look at my daughter—so rosy and energetic in comparison—and marvel at how fine is the line between hope and despair. I wonder how people face such trials without the consolations of faith. I marvel at the courage of those who do so and find some way to keep going.
Part of the change I’m experiencing is that I’m growing bolder. I take the hand of someone I’ve known for all of five minutes to pray for them, their bodies, their families. I have no sense of embarrassment anymore—not in the presence of these walking wounded. There is not time for such sensibilities. The stakes are too high. The pain is too deep. I am quick to ask questions, quick to tears, quick to touch. I don’t mind if they rebuff me. I don’t mind if my faith is not shared. There is something life-giving in the touch and in the offer of hope.
Much of that boldness is born of a newfound sense of compassion. I’ve discovered that compassion is not a virtue developed by daily exercises and disciplined efforts. We do not become compassionate just because we know we ought to be compassionate. Compassion can only grow out of wounds borne—and the fresher the wounds, the deeper the wounds, the greater the compassion. Compassion is the response of one person who has known fear and pain and helplessness to someone else experiencing those same emotions. Compassion is the willingness of someone who has looked into the chasm to embrace the pain of another and share its burden for a while. I’m discovering that it takes one to know one.
I don’t know where this journey will end. I am grateful for God’s mercies now that Sarah seems safe. I wonder if I will be grateful for God’s mercies if this tumor returns? I worry about tomorrow, even though I know I’m not supposed to worry. Most of all, I’m enjoying being with my daughter and savoring every moment of it. I left her in the hotel room while I sat in the lobby to write this article. It’s time to get back to her. So pray. Be bold. Cultivate compassion. And hug the ones you love like there is no tomorrow.
Dr. Tim Woodroof is a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife Julie make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. www.timwoodroof.com