“Now, I’m going to use a scary word to describe your situation but I think we got to it early: melanoma.”
My doctor spoke these words to me this past July. The reason I had gone to the dermatologist that day was to have him look at a sore on the back of my lower leg that had not healed properly.
A cancellation at the dermatologist’s office allowed me to get in the very next day. He asked me if it was all right with me for him to do a “body scan” where he then discovered a severely atypical mole on my back. After the biopsy, it was found to be stage 0 melanoma. Whereas, the area on my leg was treated, healed well, and found not to be a problem.
Even though I have counseled several persons with this diagnosis in the past, melanoma and cancer are scary words when you first hear them said to you directly. The range of emotions that accompany those words I had only learned about from second-hand information. Now, in God’s providence, I experienced those emotions personally as the doctor told me the plan for ridding me of the cancerous mole in my back. In only 8 weeks, I was able to have an in-office surgical procedure to remove the mole. A recent pathology report indicated that I am now cancer-free.
Let me pause here.
I hope you can see evidence of God’s grace to me in what little I have described above! I went in with one problem in my leg that concerned me greatly and walked out knowing God used that situation to get me into the dermatologist’s office where he found a bigger issue.
Another blessing was that God allowed the doctor to detect the problem early – at stage 0. It was encouraging to hear that the surgical procedure would be “curative” according to the doctor for this one severely atypical mole.
Still, 8 weeks is a much longer time than I realized many people must wait for these types of procedures, and I experienced all types of emotions during that time. Reading things on the internet is not always helpful as most websites say that the majority of patients usually live 5 more years after diagnosis. I spoke to a dear friend who informed me that this very day marked the anniversary of him losing a relative to this very same type of melanoma! I was stunned to think that I was having a conversation about this brand new information about my health on the very day this friend’s relative died; the situation he described sounded eerily similar to mine. A cancerous mole was removed and then a new one appeared 5 years later, was removed, but then 3 weeks later the relative’s health declined rapidly leading to death.
So all of that had me thinking:
“Lord, if I have 5 more years to live, what do You want me to do with my remaining time on the earth?”
In 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah was told to get his house in order because he would not recover from his illness: his death was coming. Then, after Hezekiah prayed, wept, and asked the Lord for grace, God sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah to inform him that he would have 15 more years to live. I was reminded of that true historical account in the Bible as I reflected on my time left to serve God on the earth.
DENYING THE INEVITABLE
Typically, our culture denies death — at least we did before 2020’s pandemic. Our culture likes to think we can do certain things to be “safe,” as if there are things we can do to avoid death. These self-deceptions comfort us as we plan out our lives and tend to believe we are going to live to be 90 years old (or older!). We think we can control our destiny. But the One who controls our destiny is seated on His heavenly throne.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a says: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…
Just as you have a specific birthday, one that God chose and foreknew, you also have a specific death day; yet we ignore that reality with as many distractions as possible to occupy our minds.
Denying our inevitable death day is truly what addictive tools provide: these tools offer distractions from the rigors of living in a fallen, sin-cursed world that assuredly ends in death for all people. The problem is that the addictive behaviors that once were tools controlled by the addict become master over the addicted person. The distractions, once under “control,” become controlling over the addicted person the more dependent and habitual they become. This pattern occurs no matter what form the addictive behavior might take.
Coronavirus in 2020’s pandemic has reminded the world of the inevitability of death. Many of the elderly and immunocompromised have died due to Covid-19 which can now be added to the list of another way to die. You can die in a multitude of ways and now we know of a new way to die thanks to Covid-19.
Isn’t it amazing the lengths to which all of us will go to try to avoid death? Before we knew that 99% of those under the age of 50 infected with the virus recovered from it, we took wise precautions to quarantine at home, wash our hands, socially distance ourselves from others, and more. Some shut down their businesses and took drastic measures to avoid being infected and infecting others. You lived through it as have I so you know what steps you took personally to avoid the coronavirus. I did many of the same things and yet I had a very serious, potentially life-threatening melanoma growing from within that I was unaware of its existence.
Like a melanoma, sin grows from within. I wish I could blame you or my parents or someone else for my own sin, but I cannot. It is my own heart’s desires to please the flesh that encourage me to sin.
My cancerous mole was growing in the middle of my upper back so I could not even see it without a strained eye and the use of two mirrors. Sin stems from within my own heart and often we need someone to show us where it is. We certainly cannot see it apart from the Holy Spirit and the wisdom God has revealed in His Word.
And that’s our approach to addiction – address the sinful heart desires from within that manifest in many forms of addictive behaviors like substance use disorder, opioid abuse, marijuana misuse, excessive alcohol drinking, gambling, self-harm habits, eating disorders, and the like. No matter what the so-called cancerous mole of an addictive behavior might look like, the desire for it grows from within just like melanoma.
To further the metaphor, consider the “curative” mole removal procedure. Does it guarantee that another mole will not grow somewhere else? Absolutely not! A person who is addicted might go to treatment or receive counseling to “cure” the current situation’s immediate dilemmas but that does not mean that temptations will not come in the future. The heart desires to fulfill its longings with the temptation offered and the sin manifests (or gives birth as James tells us).
I love the biblical approach to addiction: we ask God to replace wrong, sinful desires within the heart of the addict, and this leads to transformation of the will so that when temptations come, the once addicted person will say “no” to the opportunity to use by having a bigger “yes” to do something that is more attractive and pleasing to God. That can happen and often does happen in the transforming addict who lives by truth rather than by self-deception or the lies offered by this world and Satan.
Now, I must go to my dermatologist every 6 months for follow ups and body scans because I need trained help looking at my skin. I want to catch any recurrence early. When you parallel that to the local church’s involvement in the once-addicted person’s life through small groups and accountability groups, the once-addicted person needs each other in detecting wrong thinking, temptations to believe lies, and the like.
No one wants to hear that they are the problem when it comes to addiction. In like manner, no one wants to hear that they have a potentially life-ending melanoma growing from within. While death is inevitable, there is much to live for when you focus upon Christ. Christians do not have to fear death or addiction but can face them with confidence knowing there is a loving God who cares and is active in the hearts and lives of His children!
The good news is that there is a new way to live provided by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit within, and in accordance to the wisdom of God’s Word of truth. External temptations will never completely disappear but by His power and the resources Christians have because we are in Jesus Christ, the addicted person can be transformed into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The Addiction Connection network believes these truths and is ready to serve you as best we can, for His glory.