Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook the question, “What is on your grown up Christmas list?” Without thinking I wrote down, “A cure for cancer.” Believe me, y’all, that is ON. MY. LIST.
But I wrote it without thinking (which happens far too often in Facebook-land).
See, the friend that asked has a dad who has suffered with debilitating bone pain for over 10 years, a mom who has suffered health issue after health issue after health issue, and a daughter who is special needs and requires most of her mom’s strength daily for care. None of them have cancer…but they suffer immensely.
I realized what I had done and it hit me–it’s easy for me to get consumed with the very hard that is in front of me and lose sight of the very hard that is in front of others. Yes, I want a cure for cancer, but I want her dad cured, and her mom healed, and her baby girl to be okay, and for all of this stinking ugliness in the world to go away.
I thought about the three friends I know who the week of Thanksgiving lost parents. I thought about the woman I stood and wept with at our Thanksgiving service whose husband died unexpectedly in October. I thought of others suffering: those who have lost children, those who have lost parents (my mom lost both her parents in the space of one week this summer), spouses, or siblings, those separated from the ones they love, those who long to conceive and can’t, those with physical pain that incapacitates, those with physical and mental handicaps, those with the internal pain of depression or anxiety and other “hidden illnesses”, those with loved ones who have deserted or betrayed them, those who suffer(ed) abuse. Oh my goodness, y’all, the list goes on and on and on.
It reminded me of a post I wrote last November after sitting in the cancer center listening to an old man seethe bitterness all over the waiting room as he faced suffering and death. He raged against the monster that had ruined his life plans.
There was an awkward silence, and I felt every gamut of emotion run over me. My internal wrestling match began as fear chilled and then indignation ran hot. I wanted to scream, “Do you NOT see me sitting here? Do you think THIS is the life any of us had planned? Cancer at 24 then 34 then 35 then then 38 and now…?! You want to complain… well, let me tell you…” I could have gone on and on in my mind, “And how about my friends who have lost wives, parents, children to this disease to other diseases? And what about those whose lives are hard in other ways? What about this person and that person and…” My brain seethed.
As quickly as it came, the indignation slipped away as the Spirit moved my anger to compassion. I’ve been there. It’s so easy when you are suffering to be blinded to everything around you. It’s so easy to get into our own little bubbles and think the world revolves around us. It’s easy to forget that everyone around us has their pain and struggle and suffering, too.
There are as many different types of grief and suffering in this world as there are people in it. We all carry something, and no one (not one of us!) has the market on suffering.
I found my heart broken for this man, for my friends, for my family. The answer rang in my mind, “Do you think this is the life any of us planned? Well, let me tell you… let me tell you about my Jesus, my suffering Savior.” That is where I need to go. Where we all need to go. I sat there and prayed for God to open up a door for me to speak, but their eyes never turned in my direction and the moment never came…
Then across the room I heard an elderly man talking to one of the cancer center volunteers, “Oh, I’ve had a lot in my life. There are things in this life that are more painful than cancer. But oh! I’ve been blessed.”
She smiled at him and said, “What are some of your blessings?”
He listed off his life, his family, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “Look, the sun is shining today.” He pointed out toward the parking lot. “I have so much, and I have my Jesus.”
Tears welled and I was blown away by the contrast. “If a person can be grateful,” the volunteer said, “That’s a blessing in itself.”
The nurse came and called my name. As I stood up, the angry man looked up at me and the familiar shock at my age registered in his eyes. He looked questioningly at me. I nodded, smiled and waved. He returned the nod and wave, but not the smile.
This life is hard. This life is full of unplanned things.
And yes, gratitude is a blessing in itself. But it’s so much more than that.
We have been given some amazing gifts in this life, and we have much for which we are thankful. I long to have my eyes opened more and more to the gifts God has given me, but conjuring up some sense of thankfulness from within me won’t work.
It’s not about the gratitude.
It’s not about the gift.
It’s about the Giver.
I am grateful because my Jesus gives me the strength to walk this suffering. To walk literally carrying, death in my body is hard, yes. But He carries me.
And we, my friends, we carry each other.
Yes, I wish for a cure for cancer. I always will. But more than that…
I wish for the grace and strength to endure the unendurable until Jesus comes back to restore fully what sin has broken.
I have prayed for you today. If you are reading this, I’ve prayed for you–some of you by name. I’ve asked God to be with those of you who suffer and give you measures of strength. I’ve asked Him to show you Jesus in your sufferings. I’ve begged Him for peace for myself and for you in whatever chaos you find yourself. And I’ve thanked Him that He is worthy. He can be trusted. And that He is the Savior. Our suffering Savior.
Thank you for walking this road with me. May we suffer well together.