Eight years ago, at the age of thirty-five, with a wife and three young daughters, I heard words that inspire a whole different kind of fear: “Michael, I’m sorry but you have colon cancer.” Tests would show that it was stage III. I had a world of suffering to go through to beat that nasty monster. Multiple surgeries, chemo, an ileostomy, fatigue, depression, pain. A new kind of suffering.
By the grace of God I survived that battle and learned a thing or two along the way. I learned that suffering serves a purpose if you look at it through the right set of lenses.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
Many are not strangers to suffering. It comes in different forms with different faces. For some it’s cancer; for others it’s Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis; for others it’s the loss of a spouse or child, the loss of a job. Suffering strikes without warning, and when it does, it often hits hard.
Through cancer I experienced firsthand how suffering serves to humble us, focus us, clear away all the junk in life that has crowded our vision for so long. Now on the other side of that dark valley, I can honestly say that my bout with cancer proved to be an unexpected blessing.
Here are five things cancer taught me about suffering:
We are mortal and our power is limited.
There’s only so much in this world that we can control—in fact, very little. Suffering reminds us that though we plan and do our best to carry out those plans according to our will, much of what happens day in and day out is beyond our grasp. Ultimately, we are at the mercy of Almighty God and must learn to rest in His sovereignty and simply trust Him.
We live in an imperfect world.
Way back in the beginning, man invited sin into the world. That sin cursed the world and brought suffering with it. Now we must live with the consequences. Cancer reminded me that not all suffering is a direct result of our own sin. Sometimes it just happens; it’s the world we live in. There’s no one to blame, no culprit to point a finger at.
We must focus on what really matters.
We have a tendency to get sidetracked by things that only seem like they matter. Temporal things that have no eternal impact. Suffering reminds us that the majority of our energy and efforts should be spent on the things that truly matter. The things that will survive the test of time and have eternal ramifications.
We are not alone.
It may seem like it and the road may get very lonely, but suffering reminds us that there is always One who travels with us, encouraging us, urging us onward, holding us when we can go no farther. At times the valley is so dark we can barely see the path before us, but we never travel alone.
Life is precious.
Life is a gift and there is so much at stake. Suffering reminds us that we matter to God, that He counts us as the crown jewel of His creation. That He cares about even the smallest details of our life. That He paid such a high price for our life, He sacrificed so much for us, and He loves us more than we could ever love Him back. And that He identifies with every one of our hurts.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me against the Rock of Ages.” Suffering of all kinds can serve to teach us much. For me it was cancer. For you it may be something else. Find the lessons in your suffering, the truths that are hidden in that wave. And when the wave pushes you about and washes over you and slams you against the Rock of Ages, hold on for dear life and find the blessing in that wave.
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