By Dr. Aaron New
As a person of faith, it has been interesting to study the history of my field, psychology and counseling. For most of the twentieth century, people in this area of study have been hostile towards religion and spiritual faith. Many early psychiatrists and psychologists believed that religion was a cause of mental disturbances or that only those with mental disturbances turned to religion. This has always been at odds with patients and clients who have described their faith as a healthy and sustaining factor in the midst of their ailments. And it has only been in the past couple of decades that researchers have consistently noted the positive role of religion in both general medicine and mental health. Allow me to very briefly describe how my own religious faith has sustained me in the midst of my cancer and chemotherapy.
My faith has provided me with a healthy perspective on life – my past, present, and future. My faith reminds me that nothing I’ve done previously in life gives me a pass from sad or painful conditions. It’s not like I should be exempt from bad things. In fact, if anything, I deserve far worse than I ever get. And whatever I have to deal with in the midst of my cancer and treatment, there are others of faith that have persevered in the face of situations monumentally worse than mine. My faith also reminds me that my current hardships can prove to be beneficial. The Scriptures tell us that we have to suffer in order to develop perseverance, that we have to develop perseverance in order to develop character, and that we have to develop character in order to live a life of hope. And I desperately want to live a life of hope. Finally, my faith gives me perspective on the future. My worst case scenario is that I do not survive the cancer and I get to be with Jesus. I understand fully that this would be tremendously difficult for my family to deal with. But I also know that God loves my family more than I do and He knows how to care for them.
My faith has also provided me with a quiet strength to deal with the stress and strain of cancer and chemotherapy. Hearing and reading God’s Word helps me to dwell on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent, and worthy of praise. Dwelling on the negative is not productive or healthy. God’s Word also reminds me that nothing at all (not even cancer or death) can separate me from His love. I sense God’s presence when I pray – reminding me that He is with me, not necessarily removing pain, sadness, heartache, and grief, but walking that journey with me. And I feel my spirit lift when I sing songs that honor and worship my Creator.
Finally, my faith has kept me connected to others in deep and meaningful ways. I believe that we are created to be a part of a community. Not a neighborhood or a club, but a group of others into whom we can pour our lives and to whom we can open up for their own pouring. We are created for rich and significant relationships with other believers. My faith has allowed me to be ministered to in countless ways. I have visitors nearly every day – most who know how and when to cheer me up with humor, to check on my spiritual walk, to inquire about my family, and more. We are blessed with friends who bring meals to us 2 to 3 times each week. We have friends who watch our children whenever we need them. We have been especially blessed by close friends as well as Christians we don’t yet know who have given thousands of dollars to help us meet our real and practical financial needs. These folks pray for and with us. They care about us. They love us. And this has made all the difference in the world.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of the benefits of faith. And others would describe their experiences differently, I’m sure. But these three areas of faith – perspective, strength, and connection – have proven to be anchors for me. And whether we are living in the midst of the chaos of cancer or the regular routines of life, we all need anchors to keep us steady.
Aaron New is Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department and Professor of Psychology and Counseling at Central Baptist College. He enjoys life with his wife and three sons in Conway, AR. You can also find him on Twitter @DrAaronNew.