Early detection


“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Ps. 139:23) 

Cancer. My dad didn’t use the word itself when he broke the news to me: “Well, Myra, Mom has lymphoma.” Nonetheless, cancer invaded our family’s life last spring, and we suddenly found ourselves on a detour none of us wants to be on, a detour many readers know all too well.

Everything stopped. Plans were dropped without discussion. Things that too often fell to the bottom of the to-do list, like calling Mom just to say I love you, now rose to the top. Shock and fear ruled while we waited for more information, and when that information came, it didn’t allay our fears. We were pelted with words like: rare, fast-growing, aggressive, incurable.

We did what many have done in similar situations: We dropped to our knees. Cancer drives us into the arms of the Only One who can truly heal. We cry out to him for comfort and courage. We beg God to heal. We ask for faith enough to trust, no matter what. Brothers and sisters rally around us, praying for us when we have no words. Mom’s oncologist pays little attention to the prognosis and focuses on doing everything humanly possible to eradicate the cancer from Mom’s body. So now we watch and pray while she fights.

Because cancer is at the forefront of my mind these days, I’ve been struck by the similarity between cancer and something equally insidious: sin. Cancer of the soul, if you will. Like cancer, sin often begins small, with a private thought or secret temptation that no one else sees. It seems so easy to ignore. But when we do, it spreads and it kills.

Part of what makes my mother’s particular form of cancer so nasty is its stealth. It grows quickly and quietly, deep inside where its destruction is unseen. So although Mom hadn’t been feeling quite right, although doctors ran tests and tried to make sense of her symptoms, the cancer spread unchecked until it was far advanced.

So it is with sin. Many of us, especially those who’ve grown up in the church, become experts at hiding our sin and keeping the exterior looking good. Sometimes we even fool ourselves. But if we ignore that “insignificant” sin, it will spread and destroy. It is never benign.

When sin is allowed to spread unchecked, the prognosis is poor indeed. Sin is fatal. Whether a hidden, slow-growing form or an aggressive and disfiguring kind makes no difference; the prognosis is death. Unlike cancer, sin’s destruction is eternal. And unlike cancer, sin’s destruction isn’t limited to the one infected but has a way of spreading to family, church and community. My soul-cancer spreads death to all I love, everywhere I go. Because we fear cancer’s power to destroy, most of us take great care to be vigilant.

My mother’s cancer is one that shows little sign of its presence in the early stages, so early detection was not likely. But for many cancers, early detection makes all the difference. Doctors and medical experts issue guidelines, and we submit to unpleasant tests like colonoscopies and mammograms, certainly not for fun, but so that we can detect any cancer sooner rather than later.

Are we that vigilant for soul-cancer? How long has it been since I allowed the Holy Spirit to probe my heart and expose the sin quietly thriving there? I don’t like the discomfort, frankly, so I procrastinate. Too often, I deny the diagnosis. Too often, I polish the exterior while sin rots my soul.

A new acquaintance told me recently about her mother’s skin cancer—a story that did not end happily. She was fair-skinned and freckled, a gardener who loved the sunshine and didn’t have time for sunscreen. When the spot first appeared, she ignored it. By the time she gave in to the pleas of her family and saw a doctor, the cancer had spread into her brain, where the finest surgeons couldn’t untangle it. She died just six months later at a too-young age, from a usually-treatable cancer. If only she’d gone sooner, my acquaintance lamented.Let’s not be guilty of ignoring or denying sin in our lives as it grows. Let this be our call for early detection. Schedule a spiritual check-up today. Ask God for an accurate diagnosis and let that diagnosis drive us to the Only One who can truly heal.

Myra Holmes is the Christian Leader assistant editor.


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