I recently listened to a Fresh Air interview with oncologist Dr. Theodora Ross who traced her family’s history of cancer after a bout of melanoma. As part of the process of learning about her family, she also was tested to determine whether she carried the breast cancer gene, which would increase her risk of getting more cancer.
The interviewer, Terry Gross, wanted to know why the doctor had to know this about herself. A little self-deception suited Ms. Gross just fine. My wife, agreed. Why was it so important to know if you have the gene? She posited, as many would, it’s too much information! Besides, life is short and some things might be better unknown so you can enjoy the time that you have. As a cancer survivor, she sort of surprised me with this response. Ross provided a definitive answer, which I’ll get to.
I was prompted to explore self-deception, again, and wonder if knowing your faith roots are equally important for your life. Why is it important to be confident in your faith, even if you consider yourself a non-believer? Does it really matter?
Faith can serve as your roots on the earth. It can be the one thing that holds you up and supports you during the storms of life, during periods of drought, or when things are going so well you’re prompted to wonder “is this real?” Roots serve as an anchor that can keep you alive below ground when things above ground go through the seasons.
I love traveling to California. Parts of the state have the most fertile soil in America and produce a majority of fruit and vegetables that feeds America. The land also produces some of the most beautiful trees in the world, to include the giant Sequoias. If you’ve ever seen the trunk of a Sequoia, which is so enormous, you immediately realize that it must have equally enormous roots. Those roots enable the tree to survive for centuries.
In a metaphorical and theological sense, your faith roots, whether it is your belief in God, trust in yourself, or love for your family, enable your own survival over centuries, too. Not only does it sustain you, but you pass it along to your offspring. It won’t guarantee that you’ll personally live a long life (many deeply faithful people die at an early age), but the life you do have can be enormously richer if you know what you stand for and allow that to propel you into the world and serve as an anchor of beauty and richness.
That ability to be an anchor comes not from living a life of self-deception, or not knowing what you can about yourself, but through embracing the truths you encounter and responding to them, accordingly.
Now, back to the interview. The doctor said that the reason she took the test and learned whether she had the breast cancer gene was to empower her to take right action. If she had the gene, she’d be able to elect preventative surgery, which she said, “could save my life.” She already knew that her parents, brother, and sister (who died) had had cancer. In fact, she did have the gene and elected to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed, which data show reduced her risk of getting cancer to about 5%. That is lower than the typical American.
The story doesn’t stop there. It turned out that the gene came from her non-cancer bearing mother, not her father as she suspected. With her newfound knowledge, she had “a responsibility to inform as many relatives as you can because you can save their life.”
How are you living out your faith commitments? Are you doing those things necessary to save your life? Or are you living a life of self-deception, ignoring your vital signs?
There are no genetic tests that I know of that will tell you conclusively if you have faith-threatening genes within you. But there is a question that I occasionally pose to myself when I wonder whether a particular thing is growing my soul or killing it: is this action, belief, or value life affirming or not? Is it leading to wholeness or a state of disrepair?
Just this week, I had a doctor’s visit. Both the nurse and P.A. asked me a battery of questions that offered them a comprehensive picture of my health and well-being. They even asked if I had a fear of being homeless within the next two months. No. Then, I submitted myself to routine lab work.
I await the results very confidently that my levels will be normal. Trust me, I do want to know. I encourage you to know where your faith life stands. Your answer can one day save your life!