I had a friend who found out several years ago that she had breast cancer. I didn’t see her as often as I once did but she kept us up to date on her treatment and she was an inspiration to me. Even on her weakest days, she sent emails asking how she could pray for us because praying was about the only thing she could do. Here’s a portion of one of her emails that I saved because it was such a blessing to me. I hope this will help you see a Christian response to cancer. She passed away this year so I asked her husband if I could share this note from her. I hope this can bless someone else, too.
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“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4)
The gals at the Look Good…Feel Better seminar I attended were talking about how cancer had changed their lives, and I mentioned how cancer has been a huge blessing to me. All of a sudden the room got very quiet and everyone stared at me. I felt compelled to continue and said how it had taught me a lot about myself and my family, increased my faith, taught me what is important in life, and brought me greater clarity and focus. The room was still deadly quiet, and then one of the cosmologists changed the subject.
Afterward, I got to thinking about this awkward moment and the truth of what I blurted out. Cancer has blessed me tremendously. It’s not something I’ve enjoyed, suffering never is, and it’s definitely something I never want to go through again, Still, it’s taught me lessons that I don’t think I could have learned in any other way. The verse at the top says to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”; not if, when. All of us will suffer at some point in our lives; it’s what we receive or take from the suffering that matters.
Apparently, we commemorate John Calvin’s 500th birthday this month, and I’ve read a couple of bios about him in various Christian magazines. I never realized how much the man suffered. His only child died at 22 days, his beloved wife died after only 8 1/2 years of marriage, he had malaria, migraine headaches (think—no aspirin), kidney stones (whoa!), hemorrhoids (in the days before cars—he had to ride a horse), stomach pains, insomnia, and the article says “and much besides.”
When people experience severe suffering, like my cancer or Calvin’s maladies, it’s tempting to ask Why? or Why me? Calvin said this is the wrong question, and a better one is What for? What lesson does the Lord want us to learn? What part of our selfish character does He wish to chip away? What kind of empathy does He want us to develop (2 Cor. 1:4)? Suffering builds character. Even the Perfect Man had to learn obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8). Why should we expect anything less?
Suffering isn’t a punishment from God; it just is. It’s a result of a fallen world, a consequence of sin. Yes, God can relieve suffering, and yes, He never gives us more than we can handle (1 Cor 10:13), but He is not unjust to allow us to suffer.
Suffering is a great mystery and not a lot of fun. But it is our lot (Job 5:7). That being the case, let’s not waste it.
Ann again… This ought to give you something to think about at least today. What is the “worst” thing that happened to you this year? Have you thought about how God is using that to change you and build your character? Did you thank God for how he’s using that situation in your life? Did you write it in your Thanksgiving journal? I’ll leave you with a quote from Job,
“Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job 2:10
If you’d like to read more about this John Piper wrote a great little book called Don’t Waste Your Cancer. And he wrote it the night before his cancer surgery! And another called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. I highly recommend both of them.
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- Write 5 things you’re thankful for in your journal and share them with someone.
- What’s the “worst” thing that happened to you this year? Think about how God is using that to change you and build your character. Thank Him for it.
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