The current TV ad for Macmillan Nurses tells us that ‘No-one should face cancer alone’. I can see what they mean, but as a strong introvert I find the idea of self-help groups, craft workshops and the like only marginally better than the prospect of cancer itself. However a very extravert friend is exactly the opposite, and struggles daily with the loneliness of illness. I guess it’s horses for courses. But in facing cancer myself I found to my great surprise just how much I needed the love of others. The love of my family, up close and personal, was obviously the greatest source of strength to me, but to receive loads of cards, good wishes and presents was both immensely cheering and mightily humbling too. During the most acute phase of my illness my family sent out regular e-mail and facebook updates, and I was flooded with likes, messages and good wishes. At one stage we tried to tot up the number of people and congregations who had said they were praying for us: we reckon there were literally thousands, from several different countries of the world. The first time I cried during the process wasn’t when I was initially diagnosed: it was when my son told me he’d received good wishes for me from a school friend, whom he hadn’t seen for 15 years, via the gift of facebook. Something about all this love told me that actually, in spite of what some people had been telling me for the last year, that I was loved, valued and wanted.
I would have told you that I’m a pretty self-sufficient kind of person, that 30 years of Christian ministry have given me both a thick skin and broad shoulders, and that whilst some people were basically quite nice I could manage fine without them. But during a period of the chips being severely down I realised the extent to which I’d been kidding myself. John Donne was right all along: I’m not an island. I do need love, and I’ve only recently come to appreciate how much. I might have told you, if it had occurred to me even to think about it, that should it come to it I could face cancer alone quite happily. Now I’m nowhere near as sure, and my heart goes out as never before to those who do have to face all kinds of tragedies without family or friends to love them through it.
This has made me ask in turn about people I know who are going through the mill, and how much of a support I am to them. If tragedy does not soften our hearts it really has failed to do its job. Of course in the early days we are pretty self-obsessed, with good cause, and we need simply to suck in the love that others offer us. But as things resolve, one way or the other, can we find room in our hearts for others who might be relying on our love more than we, or they, realise?
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Finding myself with a bit of time on my hands I’m happy to receive enquiries about speaking engagements, preaching, church weekends, conferences or whatever. Please get in touch via Twitter @revjohnleach