It all started a couple weeks ago, when a friend, a cancer patient herself, posted a link to a novena for cancer patients on Facebook. If you don’t know, a novena is a series of prayers to a particular saint (or Mary or God) said over a set number of days — a 3-day novena, or a 7-day novena, or in this case, a 9-day novena — for a particular “intention” or purpose. This particular one was to a saint I’d never heard of, St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients, who suffered from cancer in his leg and was miraculously cured the night before he was scheduled to have his leg amputated.
I am the praying sort, so I decided I would do this. I prayed, somewhat generically, for my friend and “anyone else I might know who has cancer,” whether I knew they had it or not. It was a simple thing — the daily prayers were emailed to me (such is the way of prayers in the digital age), and it took only a few minutes each day. I counted myself very lucky that I didn’t have a long list of people to pray specifically for, though I thought of my own mom and mother-in-law and other loved ones who had died from cancer.
The nine days passed. I felt good for doing this simple, positive thing.
A week or so passed, and then, unthinkably, I started to hear things. Within a span of only a few days, I learned that my cousin, a friend’s mother, my former brother-in-law, and another cousin’s wife had all just been diagnosed with cancer! I felt horrible — my generic “praying for anyone I might know who had cancer” actually applied to four people!
What the heck? Does this mean my prayers didn’t do any good? Does it mean I got a head start on praying for these people? Does it mean I need to do this again, with these people in mind? Are we just a few steps away from disaster at any given moment (yes, probably)? Yes, my faith is shaken a bit.
I understand the concept of faith. I know that faith means believing that God is listening and answering your prayers, even though they aren’t necessarily answered the way you want them to be. (And that sometimes, God’s answer is “no.”) I know that “having faith” means having it in bad times as well as good. But to hear of all these diagnoses, so soon after praying for cancer patients, is just so unreal. And, I also tend to believe that “there are no coincidences.” So what do I make of this?
And, just yesterday, this article appears on my news feed in Facebook. Another bizarre “coincidence” as I literally just had to have my annual mammogram retaken because of this very thing (which I’ve known I’ve had for years, thanks to my wonderful gynecologist, but had never read anything published about it).
All of this is hitting very close to home all of a sudden. In particular, I’m sick that my cousin’s cancer is quite serious (no real details on the others, except that one, at least, seems like a good scenario with a good prognosis). At this point, the best I can do is to channel my anxiousness and concern into more prayers for my family and friends, more specific this time around. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the universe is speaking to me. So I will be praying, too, for the wisdom to answer it in the best way, with the right mind-set and the right actions. And most of all, with faith.
Pray, and let God worry.
~ Martin Luther