Posted by Chia Kee Seng on March 26, 2001 at 12:13:10:
CCMC, 08 October 2000
Dr Chia Kee Seng
These are lessons, which have proved to be very valuable for both my son and I, since she passed on 18 months ago. May 1997. My wife Liam Hoong was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the colon. It had already spread to the liver and on top of that she had cancer of the thymus, which had invaded, into her lungs. All these happened on a Tuesday. We were supposed to fly off to New York for my one-year sabbatical leave on Saturday.
We have sold our house and were concluding the sale of our car…talk about changing circumstances…
James 1:2 'Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds…' (NIV)
'Consider yourself fortunate…' (Good News Bible)
'Consider it wholly joyful when you are enveloped with various trials…' (Amp)
These verses still make me shudder.
To a non-believer, the Apostle James (who was in fact the brother of Jesus) must be very sick and very masochistic to enjoy suffering. Even to me as a believer, something is not right. We could not be joyful. We were grieving. We were in pain. Our whole world had just collapsed.
What was James really trying to say in the verse
"Consider it pure joy"? We react to the verse because we emphasize the word "joy". The key is in the verb: "consider".
"Consider it pure joy"
"Count it pure joy"
The original Greek word implies "to lead your mind in thinking". In other words, the trials are not joyful situations. It is natural to be devastated. It is human to collapse and slip into depression. Therefore James encouraged us to "to lead our mind, to lead our thinking" along another perspective. Why do it? Why should we "consider it pure joy"?
The rest of the verse says 'the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete lacking in nothing."
Wait a minute! It says that the end result of all
these trials is perseverance and maturity. At the end of the day, God's goal is perseverance and maturity. I don't want perseverance! I don't want maturity! We want life! I want my family to be intact: not maturity, not perseverance!
This is the problem: "There is a clash between what we want and what God sees as the ideal." There can only be two solutions:
1. God miraculously turn time backwards and recreate the scenario: my wife is all healthy and we flew off to NY and live happily ever after. Sounds like a fairy tale! A lot of times, we like to have such fairy tales. For many, religion or Christianity in particular offers hope for such fairy tales.
Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure
out that God does not intend to do this no matter how hard we pray!
2. We have to change our way of thinking, our
perceptions and apply James 1:2; or else it is going to be a living hell.
How did we try and "consider it all joy"? Let me try and summarise what we have learnt as a family into 3 points.
(1) SURRENDER to God
We often read the story of Job and enjoy the happy
ending and forget about the traumatic beginning. We pray and hope that such calamities will not come upon us. We may not be afraid to die because after death there is suppose to be heaven. Ironically, even though heaven is supposed to be such a nice place, we are not really in a hurry to get there nor are we very elated if our loved ones get there first.
For some of us, we may not be afraid to die, but we are afraid of pain and suffering. And at that stage, I was very afraid of the pain and suffering that my wife will experience.
Liam Hoong wasn't afraid to die. But she was afraid of what will happen to our son and me. Her pain was because of her love for Han Sheng and I.
The week after she was diagnosed went by very quickly. We were not quite alone; everyone was around almost all the time. In the night she was under medication and slept pretty well. The Saturday, when we were supposed to fly off to New York, we were alone together for the first time. We were in bed, we cried our hearts out; we prayed and pleaded with God and my wife wanted to talk.
As usual, the insensitive and "kayu" part of me took over and I was thinking to myself: "I need to be in control and reassure her that things are under control". Strangely, before I could even talk, I fell asleep! My poor wife was left all alone while this pig was snoring away! Well luckily it wasn't for long. I woke up and what I saw was a great transformation in my wife. She had been reading the Bible. She wasn't distraught. She was perfectly at peace. I was really puzzled!
She said that the half an hour was the first time she was alone with God since her diagnosis. She said I wasn't snoring. I thought she was just being gracious. She did not feel that I was sleeping. She felt that God shut me up and she said that I was perfectly at peace during that period. She read the Bible and God was saying to her: "Surrender your son, surrender your husband to God; do not concern yourself with them. God will take care of them."
Matthew 10:37: "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
It does not mean that we are not to love our family members. It means that we are to love God more than our love for our family members. There should be no close second. It means that we are to surrender ourselves completely to Him.
Liam Hoong surrendered us to the LORD. She surrendered herself to the LORD. I had to surrender her to the LORD. I had to surrender myself to the LORD. Our son had to surrender his mother to the LORD. Our son had to surrender himself to the LORD.
The months ahead taught us about surrendering each
other and ourselves to the LORD. But that Saturday was the turning point. We knew that our response, our reactions, how we are to live in the months ahead… the months of changing circumstances will have to be based on the Word of God. She got deep into the Word; she encouraged my son and I to go deep into the Word of God; she modeled for us how to live according to the Word of God. She left behind for us an example of trusting in an unchanging God in changing circumstances.
(2) SECURE in God
Surrendering to God sounds very fatalistic to me.
After all, I have no choice. It is either surrender to Him or try our best to cope with the situation or be angry and bitter with Him and live a tortured life. What is the difference between fatalism and faith? To be fatalistic is to submit passively to our surrounding circumstances. To have faith is to be secure in God that He is in control of the surrounding circumstances. How does one trust in a God when the whole world has been turned upside down? It all boils down to our image of God. It comes down to our knowledge of God: not our head knowledge of who God is, but our experiential knowledge of who God is and how He operates.
What is the whole purpose of life on this earth?
Whether or not life is going on smoothly, that purpose should be the same. The purpose in life for my family and I after Liam Hoong was diagnosed should be no different from anyone else who is healthy and having a smooth sailing life.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 that the first and
greatest commandment is "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind."
Before I knew my wife, I always thought that love is just a feeling. The first time I saw her was when I was the song leader at a Christian meeting. She came into the back of the meeting room and as usual she was late. There was a thrill in my heart. My eyes were locked in on her. My legs went weak and I must be swaying quite a bit. The group I was leading must be
thinking "Wow! The Holy Spirit was upon him. God is here! God is here!" Well it wasn't the Holy Spirit, it was the Cupid that was there! I thought I was in love! At that time I was still very slow and dense. It was many years later before we really got to know each other and fell in love. What happened at the meeting wasn't love. It was just an attraction; an infatuation or whatever you want to call it; but it wasn't love. You can't love someone whom you do not know.
Coming back to Matthew 22:37, you can't really love God if you do not really know who He is. To me, the whole duty of man is to know God and to know how He operates.
Philippians 3:10 (Amp) "For my determined purpose is to know Him, that I may progressively become more deeply acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and clearly."
This life is a journey to know and experience God.
We look at the life of Abraham. We marvel at how in Genesis 22 he was even willing to tie up his teenage son and sacrifice Him to God at Mount Moriah. How could he have such level of obedience when his son Isacc is to be the answer to God's promise of descendents as plentiful as the stars in the skies? Go back home and study the life of Abraham from Genesis 12 to Genesis 22. You will find that Abraham's faith grew slowly from Genesis 12 to Genesis 22 as he got to know God better experienced Him. He was in Ur of Chaldees (Ancient Mesopotamia); a rich country. If we are to re-enact the life of Abraham and give it a modernistic twist, his family probably owned bungalows with swimming pools and tennis courts, drove Lexus and collects antique cars! God called him to leave everything and go with his wife to Canaan, a dessert land. Obediently, he left Ur, brought along his servants and all his possessions. He brought his father, Terah, along and his teenage spoilt-brat nephew, Lot, along. Because of this huge convoy, he could not go westward and cross the desert into Canaan directly. Instead, he moved north along the Fertile Crescent and stopped in Haran for a long time. God had to call him again. This time he left his father behind but still brought everyone else and everything else along.
Later, there was a famine in Canaan and he ran down to Egypt. There he had to hide behind his wife's skirt by allowing the king to molest his wife because he was afraid that the king would kill him to get to his wife. He saw how God intervened. This happened not once but twice.
When God seems to be dragging his feet in providing a son despite His earlier promise, he and his wife took things into their own hands and he had a son with the wife's maid, Hagar. Problems arose, God intervened and this son, Ishmael had to be sent away. According to traditions, the root of Islam could be traced back to Ishmael.
Finally, in his old age and after his wife was
supposed to have reached menopause, she conceived.
Abraham and his wife grew in their belief that God was in control all the time. It wasn't overnight. Their whole life was a progressive lesson on who God is and how He operates.
Liam Hoong and I were struggling over Romans 8:28:
'God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him." We did not know how to teach this to our son. How can we go and tell him that what is happening to mummy is good? We prayed for God to intervene.
One day, as I was driving my son to his tennis class, he was very silent and looking out of the car windows. After a while, he turned around and said: 'Daddy, what had happened to mummy is actually good. Mummy, you and I are so much closer to God; grandfather came to know God, your sister and mummy's sister's family also came to know God. Isn't all these good?' He was 8+ at that
time. I was so relieved and shared with him Romans
Liam Hoong passed on in the middle of the night. Early next morning, my brother-in-law brought Han Sheng to the hospital. I met him at the lift and spoke to him. We cried and when he was ready to see his mummy's body I brought him to the room. Along the way, he stopped to tie his shoelace. He cried further and called out to mummy to wake up. After a while, I brought him out hoping to comfort him. Before I could open my mouth, he said: 'Daddy, did you notice me tying up my shoelace earlier? God spoke to me while I was tying them. The last two years when mummy was ill, was like walking around with shoelaces untied. It was uncomfortable. You can't walk properly until they are properly tied. This morning, God came and tied the shoelaces."
God was there throughout the two years. He not only showed us that He was sovereign. He showed His love. It was two years of learning to know who He is and How He operates. He taught us to surrender to Him, to be secure in Him and also to survive with Him.
(3) SURVIVE with God
After Liam Hoong's diagnosis, we knew that the journey ahead was not going to be easy even after surrendering ourselves to God. She came across a passage in Matt 14:24-34. It was the account when Jesus' disciples were caught in a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was not with them. This was the second time they were caught in a storm. The first was in Mk 4:35-41. There, Jesus was sleeping in the boat. In both instances, the disciples' aim was to get out of the storm and cross over to the other side as quickly as possible. Their aim was in the end result.
What was Jesus' aim? He walked on the water in the
passage in Matthew and he was sleeping in the other passage. His aim was to teach His disciples, lessons of faith.
After the diagnosis, we felt that in the months ahead, we need to focus on knowing God and on what He wants to teach us rather than to focus on fighting the cancers. It wasn't easy because we want to fight the cancers. The doctors want us to fight the cancers. Our family wants us to fight the cancers. The Christians in the charismatic movement came around and lead us to focus on healing. Do this and do that, believe in this and believe in that and you will be healed. This is
Scriptural they say: our elder will anoint you with oil and pray for you and you will be healed. This oil is special; it's from Israel! I might as well go to the famous Toa Payoh temple and get a charm or go to Bangkok and buy a Buddha amulet! Charlatans and false prophets! Perhaps that's too strong. They had good intentions but with the wisdom of hindsight, what they were trying to do was clearly not in line with what God wanted.
Everything and everyone, with good and sincere
intentions, were drawing us to focus on the end result rather than what God wants to teach us through the journey.
It wasn't easy to focus on God when things were not going smoothly, when there was intense pain, when she was drugged with all the morphine and painkillers. At those times, you don't feel God. You don't see God. He is not even sleeping in the boat or walking on the water. I can't honestly echo the words of the song " With Christ in the vessel you can smile at the storm." I can only say that we were frowning and struggling in the storm but God was smiling down at us and that made
our hearts glad. You just have to rest on the Word of God and by an act of the will, declare as Job did "I know that my Redeemer lives!"
I am glad that during our undergraduate days, Liam
Hoong and I spent a lot of time in studying the bible; not just reading or doing our devotionals but studying, memorizing ad trying to apply the Word of God. All those studies came back and helped us tremendously during those dark hours.
Last year, my son went on a holiday to Chengmai with his cousins, uncles and aunties. I wasn't with him. He came back and told me that God gave him a parable. He was at the resort and there were some small man-made waterfalls. He was enjoying himself but felt sad that mummy was not with him. He saw this leaf that was half submerged in the upper pool, went over the falls, sank and disappeared in the lower pool. Than there was a twig, upright, bobbing up and down in the water. It went over the falls, came down to the lower pool, disappeared under the water but came right up again. In his mind, God asked him: 'do you want to be like the leaf or the twig? I can help you to be like the twig."
He was 10+ then. Is he special? No. He is like any
other kid. He hates tuition; he dislikes homework; he takes his own sweet time eating dinner; he likes to go to school because he can play with his friends; he likes to come to Sunday School at CCMC because there is football after that! He is not special. What is special is that God had promised Liam Hoong that He will take care of her son.
It has been 18 months since Liam Hoong passed on. It would not have been easy for my son and I to survive if we were on our own. It was relatively easy because I have been learning to sit back and relax and watch God work. With Him, we will survive. I hope what I have shared this morning will meet to some of your felt needs. But what I hope and pray is that it will encourage you in your Christian walk to go deeper into the Scriptures and understand God more deeply and clearly. Thank you.
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