This was the week of seeing my oncologist for my 3-month check up and blood work. Any cancer sufferer will tell you that these appointments are met with mixed emotion. We look forward to getting a clean bill of health for another three months but we can’t help but feel the shadow of “what if”. What if it’s not a clean bill of health? What if the blood work doesn’t come back “normal”?
Well, praise God, I got a clean bill of health again this time! And I do mean “praise God”. I love my doctors, I am grateful for the treatment I received to eradicate my cancer, and I even appreciate the nasty drug I am taking for five years to make sure it doesn’t return, BUT, I am very clear: It was Jesus Who saved me and Jesus who holds my health in His holy hands. So I praise Him for this latest good news! Thank you for your prayers!
Seeing my oncologist can’t help but take me back to my cancer storm and the suffering that comes in the midst of such a storm. Now out of cancer treatment for a year, I am focused on finding ways God would give me to make sure I don’t “waste my suffering”. If that sounds weird, stay with me!
John Piper is a Baptist minister who has written pretty extensively on the topic of suffering. He suffered cancer himself a few years ago and has a little booklet he called, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”. Although there are certain things about which he and I would disagree (like women’s ordination, for one!), I like his overall approach which summarized is this: If you are committed to Jesus Christ, whatever happens in your life is not an accident and no matter how difficult, God can make good come from it, so don’t waste anything, including suffering!
Isn’t this at the heart of the very familiar verse, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Roman 8:28)? Nothing can transpire in my life — even the bad, really awful stuff like cancer — which God cannot use for good if I will but make the commitment that I will not waste what He has assigned me to endure.
In Piper’s little booklet “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” he comes up with 11 ways you can waste your cancer if you do not do certain things or adopt a certain view or mindset. Let me take a stab at my own shorter list as I look at “How Not to Waste Your Suffering”:
1. You won’t waste your suffering if you use it to ride into God’s presence.
When we are suffering, it seems to overtake us, control us. And yet, when we turn the tables and exercise control over our suffering and use it to ride into God’s presence, the suffering will not be a wasted experience. Cancer was my enemy, but it was also the “horse on which I rode” into a deeper relationship with God. On the wings of my cancer, I came into the presence of Christ not just occasionally as we do in healthy life, but every day, sometimes moment-to-moment! In retrospect, cancer didn’t control me! By the power of the Holy Spirit, I controlled it. I used it to get closer to God.
2. You won’t waste your suffering if you relegate it to being a backdrop on the stage of your life.
Suffering wants to overwhelm us. When you hurt, when you are in treatment, it seems to be all that you can think about — your next appointment, your next blood work, your next test, your next, your next. Yet, Hebrews 12:2 tell us we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Suffering wants to take center stage in our life, a position that belongs to Jesus alone! I found it helpful to intentionally relegate cancer to being a backdrop on the stage of my life. Yes, it was always with me, but it would not take center stage. It was a backdrop.
3. You won’t waste your suffering if you choose joy.
I know it’s hard to choose joy in the midst of suffering — believe me, I KNOW it’s hard! But remember, joy is not the same as happiness which is contingent on circumstances. Joy is contingent on nothing other than God! Joy comes as a result of our secure relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy is that which is held in the deep reservoir of the Holy Spirit who resides within us. Joy is the promise of fullness of life in Him. Joy is the assurance that “nothing separates us from the love of God” (Romans 8:31). Joy is much more powerful than suffering. Suffering must bend its knee to joy! Choose joy!
4. You won’t waste your suffering if it becomes the building block for your house of faith.
Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 7 about the man who built his house on upon a rock? When the storm hit, the house could not be shaken! Jesus Himself is my Rock but I am to choose the building blocks from which I will construct my house of faith. I could not have guessed before my cancer how strong the building blocks of suffering can actually be! Read the stories of people of faith who have suffered. People like Joni Eareckson Tada and others, including me, will tell you that our house is built on Jesus Christ and it is constructed with the strong stones of suffering. In this house built upon the Rock, we can live through any storm and we will not be shaken!
5. You won’t waste your suffering if it changes the way you see God and the world.
How many times I have talked with another cancer sufferer whose eyes fill with tears as they attempt to explain the unexplainable — how the presence of God in their time of suffering changed everything about the way they see Him and the way they see the world! Problems, worries, and trials shrink down to size after we have dealt with suffering. It’s not hard to dream big and believe for much more from God after a time of suffering. Our feelings get hurt less often and we don’t offend as easily. People’s pain makes us hurt more than we did before and people’s joy gives us more joy than it did before. Suffering is a great tutor — it helps sharpen our vision to see God and the world more accurately!
6. You won’t waste your suffering if you plant the cross of Jesus in its epicenter.
The apostle Paul was well-familiar with suffering. He endured much suffering and wasn’t shy to tell people about it, but always with the cross of Jesus planted steadfastly in the epicenter of His suffering. In both 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 6:14, Paul plants the cross in the center of everything in his life, including his suffering. Without hesitation, he exalts the suffering of Jesus as the fulcrum for all of our Christian life. Suffering can create a wasteland in our lives. Yet when the cross of Christ, the truth about the value of His suffering, is planted in the epicenter of our suffering, that wasteland becomes a fertile garden of glory for God.
7. You won’t waste your suffering if you share it with others to give them hope.
When we are hurting, we need to share that hurt with others. Truthfully, our pain can lessen greatly if we will let others help us carry it. It is important to find those with whom we can share our suffering. But sharing our suffering without the element of hope is a weight few can bear! When we are able to share our suffering with others, keeping mindful of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, it changes everything! I remember sitting with other women in the chemo infusion room and sharing our pain together. The atmosphere in the room could get thick with despair until it was cut with the scalpel of HOPE. As soon as I began to share about the hope found in Jesus, light streamed into a very dark room. There are people out there just waiting for someone to share their suffering and bring them the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.
Well, Dear Ones, I hope this is helpful. If you are suffering or you know someone who is, take heart — there is nothing that can happen in the life of one of God’s own children which He is not mindful of or which He cannot use for our good and His great and glorious purposes.
Let’s not waste our suffering!
Love and blessings,
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.