Is Art Crazy?
Often times I have been called crazy. The following interaction has occurred numerous times. I tell someone that I have been diagnosed with a highly developed form of cancer. They respond the same way- jaw dropped, eyes set straight ahead- a look of shock and sadness set in.
I cheerfully respond, “It’s gonna be OK…I am going to be fine…God’s got my back…”
The look of shock and sadness is replaced by a look of confusion. “Huh? How can you be so OK? ARE YOU SMOKIN’ CRACK? You have cancer? Chemo? Throwing up- hello…?”
“I can’t explain it,” I answer, “but I am going to be OK. No worries.”
The person ends up walking away, obviously deep in thought, thinking of how THEY would react and feel if they were put in the same situation. Scratching their head, they can’t figure out how I can be so positive and peaceful about such a predicament.
That is a scene I have experienced over and over in the past few months. From close friends and colleagues to total strangers, I have had to the break news to a varied group of people, all with similar results. The question remains, though. How can you be so positive and at peace about such a predicament? I guess part of it comes from my nature. I am a highly energetic optimist who loves nothing better than getting in front of crowd and hamming it up. I guess part of it also comes from having an incredibly supportive family and friend base that are totally behind me on every endeavor, and would sacrifice for me without question. I guess another part may come from my studies, having spent a great deal of time studying human psychology and knowing the positive correlation between positive attitude and patient recovery.
But I think those all pale in comparison to the real answer. You can make the judgement after that.
In the fall of 1999, I was in a giant wrestling match. It wasn’t a physical one, nor was it one where you could see the bruises. Rather it was an intellectual wrestling match. It was in the fall of 1999 that I had come to the crossroad – what did I actually believe? I had been raised a Christian my whole life, having grown up in a Christian home. I had ventured off to college and had my fill of the “freshman experience.” I had my fun and made my mistakes, but I never stopped being a Christian. Then sophomore year I started getting more and more involved in Christian ministries at Penn, especially Campus Crusade for Christ. Junior year I got even more involved on a larger basis, co-chairing Penn’s annual Christian Awareness Week, called “Jesus Week.” In addition to that, I was leading the charge to create a Christian umbrella organization, which would help unify Penn’s segregated Christian groups, helping the Chaplain of the University secure a space for all religious groups to meet and working to create dialogue between all of the religious groups on Penn’s campus.
Senior year I was doing more and more of the same, spending more time on these extra-curricular activities than studying. But something happened senior year. I started learning. I started really studying other religions. I started reading and understanding a lot of psychological studies. A lot of what I read made me really question what I was originally taught. A lot of the material was about evolution and the non-existence of a higher power. In the midst of my senior year, I was experiencing doubt about what I really believed.
“Impossible!” I thought. “How could I, a senior leader in Campus Crusade, the lead proponent of the Christian umbrella organization, how could I be having doubts about my faith?”
But the doubts were there. And who could I talk to? No one would understand I thought. Everyone believes so deeply here. These smart kids at Penn, they don’t doubt. So I internalized it, and internalized it, and internalized it. Finally it crept into my everyday living. It was killing me.
Skip ahead to January. I still had my doubts, but I wrote in my journal one day, “…while reading the story of Joseph (in Genesis), I realize that many of God’s leaders go through an intense period of difficulty and uncertainty, only to eventually come out on top. Have I gone through that? I feel like I have somewhat. But in the same token I want to go through that, so that I can be that kind of man of God…Lord if I need more to increase my faith – bring it on!”
A month later one of my best friends severely broke her leg after hitting a patch of ice and skiing directly into a tree. On the drive home from visiting her, I revealed my secret doubts to a friend who had accompanied me on the visit. It was one of those deep conversations you have with someone, where you share something deep and they do the same thing. Total bonding. So anyway, I told her I was having doubts about the existence of God and Jesus and about my faith in Christianity.
She had a simple answer for me – ask God to reveal himself to you. Simple as that. No need to intellectualize, no need to read tons of books, no need to debate with others- just ask God to reveal Himself to you. So I did.
A week later I had the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life in my back. After a 6am visit to the ER I was diagnosed with a kidney stone. The pain was so intense, and there was no stopping it, and I kept on asking for God, and I got no answer. I was heartbroken. When I thought I needed God most, he deserted me and didn’t take the pain away. The next week a row of lymph nodes on my right neck popped up like a mini-mountain range and I went into see more doctors. A few days later I was sent up to the 15th floor of the Penn Tower where I was told I most likely had cancer.
Walking back from that appointment my mind went blank. I had no clue what to think. There was no emotion, no tears, nothing. It was a feeling of total blankness. That night I prayed to God a simple prayer. I just asked that if this was Him, that He take care of me and that it be His will and that He reveal Himself to me. I have never ever slept so well as I slept that night. (And keep in mind that previous that night, I had not slept well in over two months because of night sweats caused by the Hodgkin’s and because of the kidney stone and its pain!)
I woke up the next morning with this amazing feeling, this energy that I cannot do justice with words. I literally felt God inside of me. I felt the peace of a higher presence. I felt the positive energy that would carry me throughout the rest of the school year. I knew deep down that I was going to be all right. So that’s when I started having my conversations with people and telling them that I was going to be OK and that God had my back. I now knew, for sure, three things. I knew there was a God, I knew He had this all planned out, and I knew that I was going to be all right.
Since then I have been through more than I thought I would go through. Despite it all- the surprises, the pain, the sickness, the suffering, the people, the doctors, the nurses, the family members, the friends, the hospitals, the moves, the pills- I know there is God who is on my side. I asked him and looked what happened- He answered me. It wasn’t what I expected or would have thought it would have turned out, but He answered me. It is so cool to have a relationship with the God who created the universe and to know he knows and cares for me! That gives me the hope and peace to get through it all.
Despite the fact that there is a chance I may never be completely cancer-free, I know God is going to take care of me. You too can have an experience like this. Maybe not the whole cancer deal, but a similar experience. If you seek Him, he will allow you to find Him. He will reveal Himself to you. It is up to you to believe it or not. We have a choice. Born in all of us is a desire for something, a desire for something more than is on this earth.
My gosh, we try desperately to fill that desire with things on earth. Awesome jobs, quality vacations, romance, cool SUVs, other people, popularity…none of them work. Me, I’ve been there. I have had great jobs, filled with big bucks and prestige. I went to an Ivy League school. I own the Mars and Venus series and have had my fill of relationships. I have performed and sang solos for audiences of thousands of people around the world. I have worked in professional radio and TV, living a “celebrity” life. All of that stuff was cool in itself but when I look back, it still did not fill that desire in my heart for something more.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Most people, if they really had learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sort of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.” i
We discover in this life that the thrills and highs have to become more thrilling and higher to have the same effect. And then the feeling that the grass is always greener on the other side, well, it usually ends up being the same grass. We constantly get disappointed in this life by the things of this world. As I have personally discovered there is only one thing that fills that void. It is a supernatural solution.
French Mathematician/Philosopher Blaise Pascal puts it best. “The infinite abyss (of the heart) can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is, by God himself.” ii
That God, Pascal (and I) recognized is the God who came personally to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to fill that void for us. He came to us! All we have to do is let Him fill that void. By filling the void with Him, we are putting Him and His desires first in our life. We look to Him for our answers, our hopes and our dreams. We no longer rely on our own strength to carry us through hard times. We rely on Him. We accept His forgiveness for our past, present and future sins. We don’t carry the burden of failures and mistakes. We love others and put others ahead of ourselves, just as He loved us.
All it takes is a decision.
Will you let Jesus Christ fill that void in your heart? You may still think I am crazy. Or may be you realize that there is something more to this life that can’t be easily explained or understood, but that you want for your life. Whatever it is, I challenge you to take that dive and find out. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
For further reading:
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1952 (link)
Colson, Chuck. How Now Shall We Live? Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishing, 1999
I firmly endorse buying these books at Amazon.com. Yes, I own stock in Amazon and it has plummeted! Support them, please! 🙂
- Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952, page 120
- iPascal, Blaise. Pensees. London: Penguin Books, 1966 (translation)