“Undress from the waist up, and put this gown on, ties in front.” Thus began my breast cancer journey, those words preceding a routine mammogram that revealed something not so routine. The weeks that followed have brought an ultrasound, needle biopsy, MRI, surgical consult, pre-op physical, and chest X-ray. Each of which began the same way: “Put this gown on, ties in front.”
The first few times I put on the gown, I felt awkward, exposed, and uncomfortable, trying to sit so as to maximize coverage of the ill-fitting gown. However, with each gown-donning experience, it felt a little less uncomfortable as I realized the doctor/nurse/technician has seen it all before, there’s nothing shocking or surprising. And, perhaps more importantly, each examination, scan, and test–invasive or exposing as it may feel–is a necessary step on the journey toward ridding my body of this toxic cancer and restoring my health.
Being a Christian woman, perhaps it’s natural in draw a parallel between all the physical examinations I’ve experienced lately and the spiritual practice of examen. They both involve taking a closer look to see what’s going on inside. Mind you, examen is not something I routinely practice. Self-examination in front of God, identifying and confessing sin, asking God to “search my heart”? That’s a bit scary–makes me feel awkward, uncomfortable, exposed. What are we going to find, God and me, if we go poking around? But, sins and wrong thinking can be just as toxic to our spiritual life as a cancer tumor is to our physical health. Only through exposing them and letting God do his transforming work in those areas can we begin to heal, grow, and become more of who God intends us to be. And just like the health care professionals I’ve encountered recently, God has seen it all, he already knows what’s going on inside spiritually–he’s not going to be shocked or surprised. So maybe it shouldn’t seem so scary.
I’ll have some periods of rest and recovery on this cancer treatment journey. And while I’m sure I’ll use some of that time for napping, reading, and watching bad daytime TV, perhaps I can use some of it to engage in the practice of examen. Maybe I’ll think of it as a mammogram for my soul (except God probably won’t make me put on a hospital gown, ties in front!).