By Marcia Hornok
Alone with God
I have a Holy of Holies in my home. A place where nothing interrupts my solitude with God. Neither phone calls, media messages, nor family members intrude when I enter it. Only God and I meet there daily in this Holy Place.
Now I’m not an especially disciplined Christian, but I am a clean one, because I’m talking about my shower stall. A place for taking inventory, reporting for duty, and unloading my burdens. There I can weep without scaring my family. Soul gets cleansed along with body. I have no prayer list to get through or formula to follow. Just the reality of God with me. Immanuel.
Struggling with God
One year my shower sanctuary turned into Gethsemane’s Garden when my soapy fingers felt a lump. Surely it would not be malignant—haven’t I done everything right? Nursed all my babies, grown and preserved my own food, no addictive substances—I bet it had been ten years since I had a Big Mac with fries! And what about all those aerobics classes?
With no family history, surely I could dodge the breast cancer bullet. But when the doctor called it “suspicious,” I responded the way I usually do to trials: What did I do to deserve this? Why me? What about our trip to Scotland to visit our daughter and husband?
Having already survived a different type of cancer, I didn’t think I needed a remedial course. Arrogantly, I thought I had learned the cancer lesson about surrender and accepting God’s inscrutability. Yet here it was again.
Under the shower I railed at God. “Why do you give me a stone when I ask for bread? I thought You were my loving Father, but You are such a hard taskmaster. Are You punishing me for some sin in my past?”
When circumstances sideline me, I can forget God’s generosity faster than Simon Peter forgot his promise to stand by Jesus.
Fortunately, God is patient, and in my case, longsuffering. Two surgeries later, I was pronounced “stage one.” No chemo necessary. God is merciful.
With the lump removed and no cancer in the lymph nodes, I told my surgeon, “Thank you very much; I hope I never see you again.”
“Oh no,” he answered, “I’m in your life for good.”
Then he told me about frequent mammograms, regular check-ups, and estrogen-blocking meds after I had 35 radiation treatments.
I told God I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it—especially after I read about the side effects: the burned skin, scar tissue, possible deformity. Two doctors told me I would need corrective surgery afterward. One woman undergoing radiation showed me her chest—it was dark maroon! No thanks!
Surrendered to God
However, one evening in my Holy of Holies, I did the surrender thing again. I started focusing on what I had left, not what I had lost. The lump was small and caught early. I had lumpectomies, not a mastectomy. Sentinel lymph node was clear. No chemotherapy. The airline even refunded all but $100 when we canceled our Scotland trip. Gratitude grew as I thanked God for each evidence of His goodness.
My husband and my medical insurance both encouraged radiation. If not, and the cancer returned, I would regret that I did not do everything the doctors had recommended.
So I started entering another Holy of Holies at 3:15 pm every weekday. There I laid my body on the altar so part of me could be carefully burned. While lying still, I poured out to God the needs of my family and church during the ten minutes it took for the procedure.
I remember my husband telling me, “Every day at 3:15 pm, I pray for you.” I said those same words back to him, and we smiled at this new aspect of marriage unity.
At 10:15 pm in Scotland and at 4:15 pm in Wheaton, my daughters prayed for me. My son set his watch alarm for 3:15 pm and remembered me.
According to Romans 8, we joined the prayer circle of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This mystical reality amazes and comforts me.
My car also become a Holy Place. On my way to the hospital every day, I would sing Charles Wesley’s words: “Jesus, Lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly….Hide me, oh my Savior hide till the storm of life is past….All my trust on Thee is stayed….Cover my defenseless head [breast] with the shadow of Thy wing.”
When I received the cancer diagnosis I had asked friends to give me Scriptures, and I made them into a card pack of “Battle Verses for Cancer.” To counteract radiation fatigue, I took walks with my card pack, flipping through the verses and meditating or praying God’s words back to Him. Walking with God in the literal sense.
An additional mystery began to emerge: God can teach me the most from situations I understand the least. That which hurts me can also heal me. I can choose to groan or to grow. My two cancer experiences broke my will, but also bonded me into new intimacy with God and new fellowship with those who pray for me.
My radiation Holy of Holies was temporary. Cancer reveals that everything about life is temporary—except my eternal relationship with God. Being alone with Him reminds me that I am never alone. I enjoy Him more now than I did before my affliction. He is not a demanding Father or a mean Master but a wise and loving Coach. His training process hurts but also helps me develop spiritual muscles and endurance. When He gives me extra laps, it’s for my good and His glory.
Tonight when I step into His presence and reach for the soap, I will praise Him for that.
Marcia Hornok writes from Salt Lake City where her husband pastored Midvalley Bible Church for 39 years. For a free digital copy of her illustrated book of 40 Brief Evangelistic Analogies, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.