I used to think suffering was meant to teach me lessons—hard but good life lessons—and as soon as I learned what God wanted me to learn, my suffering would come to an end.
I see things so differently now. Suffering isn’t a classroom—it’s an invitation into the heart of God. The greatest thing I can do with my life is love God and love people (Matthew 22:36-40), so whatever furthers that goal has to, ultimately, be insanely good for me—and for those my life touches.
And in my own experience, it has been pain and grief and loss and long waits and distress and brokenness that have best helped me experience Jesus’ perfect love—and best enlarged my heart to love others in a way I never could have imagined twenty-five years ago. (We see this reality all over the Word. See Philippians 3:10 and Psalm 119:71 for starters.)
I haven’t effortlessly embraced hardships in my life, and I haven’t easily accepted cancer. Not by a long shot. After both diagnoses, I wrestled long and hard with God, with lots of sobbing sessions in the dark corners of my closet, processing with family and besties and counselors, searching Scripture and asking hard questions. Lots of sleepless nights grieving harder than I thought my heart could endure.
But if, for me, terminal cancer is the way into greater love for both God and people—then it is a gift, not a linear lesson to be learned as quickly as possible. My present suffering will only get harder and harder, and it won’t end until I die, but every day I’m pressed further and further into God’s heart—and that enables me to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with a God who also “leads me beside quiet waters” and “restores my soul” (see Psalm 23). Mysteriously enough, the process of walking with him through that valley and beside those waters is what teaches me how to better love and care for others.
God may heal me yet, but only if my healing presses me further into Love. Only if healing can eternally accomplish what terminal cancer cannot.
So my prayer has not been for a miracle, but for more days here to love God and love people, and I fight toward that end, especially for the sake of my husband and my son.
The pressing question is no longer, “Why doesn’t God heal me?” but, “What if healing would rob me of a life of love?”