Sociology professor receives a dire diagnosis
He is stopped in his tracks
He is also a Mennonite pastor
How can he find a path forward?
These four lines describe pastor and professor Conrad Kanagy, a Mennonite author who lives with his family in my childhood hometown, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
Kanagy speaks of his living on “God’s Gifted Time” in an article published in Anabaptist World, November 5, 2021. Although his emphasis is on how the Church must adapt to changing times, he also shares his life-changing experience — “having to release old dreams and embrace what God is shaping him to be now.” His subtitle alludes to his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and its effect on his current world view and lifestyle.
In His Own Words:
Perhaps my perspective is impacted by recognizing that, due to my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease four years ago, I, too, am diminishing as I prematurely age. No amount of bargaining for the latest gimmick is going to change that fact. I find myself viewing the horizon as would someone who is 15 to 20 years my senior.
Rather than spending my energy in a flight of denial, I have embraced a foreshortened view of my life and recognized there are things I must release. One of them is my role as a lead pastor [of Elizabethtown Mennonite Church]. Parkinson’s has foreclosed the fulfillment of my dream to carry on another 10 years.
Facing my limitation head-on has enabled me to find a new purpose consistent with the life I must now live. I am far more content and peaceful than if I were to remain in denial. It is a peacefulness gleaned from the words of Henk Stenvers, who writes: “Let us relinquish what is keeping us from heading out.” Kanagy continues quoting with a reminder that “When Jesus is in our boat. . . the storm in us dies down. . . . Going new ways is only possible if we relinquish the fear of an unknown future. . . . We need to return to the content of our faith and place priority on the imitation of Jesus.
Conrad Kanagy recognizes “God’s Gifted Time”:
A couple of years after my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I told our congregation that I had experienced a new conversion to Jesus and a new awareness of God’s love for me. I do not believe this would have occurred without acknowledging that I am living on God’s gifted time. It is much better to choose for God than to forgo the gain we have in Jesus’ resurrection by clinging to what inevitably we must lose.
His Bio (Cited in Anabaptist World)
Conrad L. Kanagy is professor of sociology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Road Signs for the Journey: A Profile of Mennonite Church USA (2007) and co-author of Winds of the Spirit: A Profile of Anabaptist Churches in the Global South (2012). He is married to Heidi, and together they lead Elizabethtown Mennonite Church. They have a son, Jacob, who is married to Sarah, and a grandson, Ezra.
* * *
The Truth is . . .
. . . we all have a dire diagnosis. We are human beings, each of us mortal. One day we will die.
Thus, each day we are alive is a gift, whether we recognize it or not.
I have a chronic eye disease. It is treatable, but not curable. According to my doctor, it is a disease that I will probably have to manage for the rest of my life. Though the treatment is painful, I value what it makes possible for me: ability to drive, privilege of reading and writing–and beholding the faces of friends and family!
No doubt, you know someone who has a chronic or incurable disease. It may be someone you love dearly. Maybe the person with the dire diagnosis is you.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
14 God said, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.”
Have you yourself (or someone you know) had to manage a chronic illness–or dire diagnosis?
Do your views about a dire diagnosis match those of Conrad Kanagy? How are they different?