Nobody dislikes Tony Snow. By acclamation, people who know him say the White House press secretary is the most decent, kind and encouraging human being they have ever met. Speaking from personal experience, I can testify not only to his inner warmth and outer kindness, but also to the goodness of his wife, Jill, and their three children.
The return of Snow’s colon cancer comes only days after Elizabeth Edwards announced the return of her breast cancer. Snow was quick in his warm comments about the wife of the presidential candidate, which came just days before the discovery that cancer had moved to his liver. He can identify with Elizabeth Edwards.
At a Jan. 31 dinner for media people in conjunction with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Snow revealed his soul to the 100-plus hardened journalists and others in a hotel banquet room. He told us, “In many ways, having cancer was the very best thing that ever happened to me, other than marrying my wife.”
He said the death of his mother from colon cancer produced a “shadow that follows you.” He said he wasn’t afraid of dying, but is afraid of leaving his wife and kids. These are human emotions with which everyone can identify, whether or not they have had to deal with a potentially fatal disease.
Snow spoke about the importance of “faith and attitude. You have to make a choice about whether you want to live.” Speaking of a friend who had cancer in several parts of her body, he said faith and attitude are not decisive in whether you will live, “but they certainly are a great help, because those who give up, or give in to self-pity about how awful things are, a lot of times they don’t make it.”
He said the disease caused him to ask where he would go with faith: “For a lot of us as kids, having faith is like sitting on Santa’s lap; you pray because you want things and you want outcomes. But instead when you’re faced with death, you don’t really die, you get to go to a cooler place with maybe a sterner teacher. It’s not that big a leap and you’re going to see a lot of friends there.” Now there’s a sermon!
So, how do you approach God, he wondered? Do you ask for favors, or do you do something that is very hard in the modern era, “which is learn how to give yourself to God, to surrender. It’s not just saying ‘God, it’s in your hands,’ but understanding whatever may come afterwards is a matter of not trying to get God to do stuff for you, except maybe to mow down some of the barriers that separate you from God, because for all of us, our vanities get in the way.”
Snow says his deepening faith didn’t happen overnight. It began with realizing “how many people loved me.” He said a lot of life is figuring out you’re not in charge and figuring out who is. He started to pray, he said, and began to sense a growing presence of God in his life. He said after his first cancer surgery many people sent him letters that included Bible verses. Among his favorites was Psalm 91:2-3: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.’”
After his first cancer surgery, Snow said he had to stay in bed and he began reading the Bible more, “learning to pray” and to ask God to “draw me closer, please, (which) develops a hunger that is also a form of joy.”
He said colleagues frequently ask him what he will do after the White House? He says he might have had an answer before, but now he has no clue. “I put everything in God’s hands.”
President Bush asked the country to pray for Tony. It was the right request. Knowing Tony Snow, he would also ask for prayers for his wife and children and, oh yes, for Elizabeth Edwards and her husband. One thing Tony is not is stingy in his love for God and for others. He is an authentic Christian in faith and in works.