If you’ve been on Facebook you might have seen a video that has been circulating recently. This video shows what appears to be a teenage boy, laying in a hospital bed with cancer. His parents are also in the room, as they begin to yell at him over, what they believe, are poor decisions that he’s inflicted upon himself. The boy begins to cry, as his mother grows increasingly angry. She says things to him such as, “This is his fault!” and “You won’t ever be anything!” She calls him weak and demands that he gets up. The video ends with a posing question: “What if we treated people with cancer the way we treat people with addiction?” I need to be honest. At first, I was confused by the message that this campaign was trying to convey. I didn’t understand the comparison they were making. Cancer is not addiction. I still stand by this statement. As many of you know, I fought and won my own battle against cancer four years ago. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 2A. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, and my confidence. Then two and a half years later, I lost so much more because of cancer. I lost my go-to gal, my Gammy (my grandmother). It’s because of her and her influence in my life that this next thing I’m going to say has to be heard.
Addiction is not the same as cancer, but the human-being that suffers from addiction is just as important. I say suffer because I suffered too. So did Gammy. So do many of us while we find ourselves here on earth, in our temporary bodies. I recognize that addiction is serious, it is a disease, and it is life-threatening. I understand that each person’s story of addiction and its impact is vastly different from the next. In some instances, a person’s addiction is caused by external influences, influences they cannot prevent. I would never, ever want to down-play that. In fact, it wouldn’t even be fair for me to do so. I have no idea what someone with addiction has experienced, but I do know what pain feels like and I know what fighting feels like. We’re all going to suffer, so why are we comparing our sufferings? Why aren’t we instead reaching out in love to those who are right now, in this very moment, hurting? It’s not about which one of us is hurting more; it’s about helping one another heal.
So now I want to pose a new question to you. Rather than, “What if we treated people with cancer the way we treat people with addiction?” How about:
“What if we treated people the way Jesus treated people?”
What if we viewed them as people, as individuals, who are in dire need of love, grace, and empathy? Instead of seeing the addict or the cancer patient, the Jew or the Gentile, we saw Cassidy, Jenn, Mike, and Lisa? Their needs matter, they matter. What if we stopped categorizing them, and rather began to identify with them? Suddenly it’s not about the label, but about the person. The person who Christ died for. The person who is inevitably going to suffer here, but understands they’re not suffering alone. After all, isn’t that the purpose of the cross? To know that even in our weakest moments, when the pain is crippling and unbearable, He took on the cross. He did it for all of us. 1 John 3:16 says, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Your brother or sister might be someone who is facing addiction, or maybe it’s cancer. Either way, they need you. Set aside your assumptions, and exemplify love. I’m not talking about the hoity toity stuff. I’m talking about a radical and deep sort of love. The love that erases the labels, and embraces the individual.
So unlike the mother from the video of the boy suffering from addiction. You will never hear the words, “You won’t ever be anything!” come from my mouth. In fact, I want you to know that you are everything. You are everything to the God who created you. When you are weak, you are everything. When you can’t get up, you are everything. When you find yourself in a time of suffering, you are everything. No disease can take that away from you.