Preparing for Christmas — with Cancer

This post is addressed to those who, like me, have some form of cancer and are doing their best to prepare for Christmas.

It isn’t easy, is it? It’s difficult to hide the fact that energy levels aren’t what they were, or that nausea and dietary restrictions make the foodie element of Christmas festivities a minefield to tread rather than a source of enjoyment. It must be especially hard if you are a Mum or Dad or a much-loved grandparent, because one of the few things families seem to agree on is that Christmas should always be the same. If one isn’t up to producing that wonderful spread on Christmas Day, or doing that traditional Beach Walk after lunch or whatever, there is a feeling of failure. Then, too, at the back of one’s mind, there is the thought that this could be my last Christmas, and if so, I want it to be a good memory for everyone. In a monastery there aren’t quite the same individual expectations although, as a member of a small community, I sometimes chuckle when people airily advise me to leave something to others. There aren’t any others for some things, and although I hope the spiritual focus of Christmas is unaffected by our ability or inability to maintain certain traditions, I know in my heart of hearts that not to have the Martyrology sung on Christmas Eve, or not to be able to sing the whole of the Christmas Office, does make a difference. Is there a remedy, and if so what?

I think the remedy is the one we have been thinking and praying about through the whole of Advent and especially during these last few days when we have been singing the ‘O’ antiphons. We have to hand everything over to God, knowing that when we cannot, He can. It doesn’t matter if we can’t manage this or that, although we’ll continue to try. It doesn’t matter if Christmas doesn’t come up to our expectations, provided they come up to God’s — and unless we deliberately choose to reject Him, they always will. However awful we feel, however much we fear disappointing others, we can be sure that God will work his very own Christmas miracle — a miracle that is not about success or material perfection but about his indwelling. It is when we have the fewest defences that God is able to draw closest to us.

So, be of good cheer, fellow cancer pilgrim. The Christmas God has prepared for us is the one that will bring the greatest joy to ourselves and all whom we love. No matter how empty and unprepared we may feel, we do not come empty-handed to the celebration. It may sound old-fashioned, but we can ‘offer up’ our weakness and our sense of guilt and failure. With our prayer we can reach out to the millions of suffering people throughout the world, to the refugees and displaced persons who have no home, to the impoverished who go hungry or thirsty to bed, and to those dying alone and unloved. We can, in a very important way, bring Christmas to them. What a wonderful privilege that is!

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19 thoughts on “Preparing for Christmas — with Cancer”

  1. Prayers for you and quiet Nun and your community as you prepare for the arrival of the Christ child.

    I don’t profess to understand the difficulties that you and all cancer sufferers cope with any of the time, but particularly in Advent and Christmas. What I do know is that somehow your writing honestly about it, opens my eyes to the suffering of others, and allows compassion to be offered where and when appropriate to those that I know, or meet who are suffering.

    It also gives me hope that my little understanding and care might help me if I am ever in your position of vulnerability and frailty, and my increasing age and some existing restrictions (I have been told to lay off table tennis and other activities for a while, to permit my prolapsed lumbar discs some respite) mean that I can appreciate how it might be in my own situation sometime down the line.

    Wishing you and your community a Happy and Holy and fulfilling Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

  2. I lost my dearest friend (aged 42, a wise mum of 3) to breast/bone cancer 2 years ago. We discovered in the silences and the stilnesses (in between the frustration of all the life-draining treatment) in the Sacrament of the unspoken present moment a Love So poignantly deep …. that there were nothing left to surrender to.

  3. If we lived nearer we would volunteer to come and help,you out with the singing! Meanwhile we have a doctor’s appointment this morning to get my husband’s test results. We hope you both have a wonderful Christmas. With love, Mike & Sue.

  4. May the peace and joy that only God can bring be with you and your community on Christmas. Praying for all of you this Christmas and thank you for all your prayers. Thank you for sharing your reflections and helping me to look for the miracles God presents us when we allow Him in when we don’t feel our best.

  5. As you say, Sister, the miracle “is not about success or material perfection but about his indwelling”. We love our Christmas traditions, but they are man-made and should not obscure what makes Christmas the reason for our joy: God chose to share our humanity, and lived and died among us, and for us.

    My beloved husband died of brain cancer this past September, and it will be a quiet Christmas for me without a lot of the usual trappings of the season. Without the decorations, the parties and the turkey dinner, my eyes are drawn simply to Jesus.

    Dear sisters, even if you don’t sing, your silence will be full and rich, and I know your hearts will be lifted to God.

  6. Many prayers for you and Dame Lucy, and yes, God can. With love he sent His Son, our Saviour, the greatest gift and miracle. God with us.

  7. Prayers for you both dear Sisters and wishing you all the blessings of this Christmas. Thank you for reminding us how we can bring Christmas to the millions who need our prayers.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and for your prayers. The Communion of Saints means that none of us is ever alone, nor is the experience of any one of us ever pointless. As we draw closer to Christmas, we can remember that God so loved us in all our fleshly frailty and imperfection that he willed to become, not just one of us, but one with us.

  9. Thank you for this Sister. My co-granny has terminal cancer and we all know this will be her last Christmas. We are trying to make it as ‘normal’ and joyful as possible for the sake of the grandchildren, but it’s hard. Such wise words from you. God bless.

  10. Thank you for this reminder of what Christmas is really about. I am not suffering, just over busy and behind in preparations but this has reminded me that I must focus on the Christ Child not perfect decorations, beautifully iced cake etc etc. Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and God’s Blessings.

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