Hearing God While Suffering: A Cancer Journey
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I really hate pain. It has recently been shouting at me very loudly, and at the most inopportune times. But instead of rousing me, most days I only want to retreat to my bedroom, curl up, and take a nap.
Christians believe that God communicates with us in various ways—through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), through the Holy Spirit (e.g., prayer and worship and music, John 16:13), through teachers whose source is the Bible. He speaks through nature and His creation (Psalm 19:1-2), and He communicates with us through our loved ones.
He also communicates to us through our various pains and sufferings and difficulties. Hearing God this way may be the most exacting of all. I don’t like trials, or pain. I like my comfort.
My journey with cancer is teaching me the value of resilience. Chemo and radiation continue to ravage my body at times, often shouting at me. I am finding it fruitless trying to reclaim what once was, the way I used to be. I try to wish into existence my pre-treatment body, and resist my new one. But I am learning, like Eckhart Tolle noted, that “It is madness to resist what’s happening.”
Resilience is the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; it is toughness.
It means focusing on the purpose, not the pain. It is anti-fragility. It means allowing my suffering to help me become stronger—it means learning how to accept it. It calls me to mercy, it calls me to grace, and it calls me to hope. These are the three cornerstones of a strength I desperately need.
My journey is teaching me a more grounded sense of optimism, where I am learning how to rest in the conviction that there is a good in my future, even if that it is only to be found in limited supply, or in heaven. It is trying my resourcefulness, where I must lean not on my efforts, but on the unending, limitless resources I find in Jesus, the true wellspring of life.
The prophet Isaiah tells me that I am not to call to mind the former body I had, or ponder the ease of my carefree past. He says God is at work right now, shaping something new in me, like a fresh spring forming out of the dry ground. The question that haunts me is will I hear it and see it and taste of it? Will I allow myself to even be aware of it? I know He can make a roadways where all seems to be nothing but overgrown wilderness, and He can cause a new stream to flow in the parched desert of my spirit. But will He do this for me? Do I really believe Him?
My journey is teaching me to forget what lies behind, to press on to what lies ahead. It is hope found in His promises.
I am learning that acceptance is facing life’s hard circumstances with patience and humility, making peace with what is. “Love is learning to say yes to what is” said Richard Rohr. My reality for now is learning to recognize my limits, what exhausts me and what fills me, as well as the exact location of every nearby restroom (sigh…).
I find my most encouraging lesson has been hearing God through others, through my community of friends, family, my kids, and especially my wife. She is truly my rock when I am flailing, my courage when I am afraid, my inspiration when I feel none. I feel loved by my community, and I am overwhelmed with joy at the Holy Spirit’s love and power that radiates from them. It is their acts of kindness—a meal brought and a meal shared, their words of hope, their prayers, the gift of their time, even a warm blanket to keep me warm during chemo—small tokens of their love for me that mean so very much.
Most of all, I am learning that resilience and hope would not count for much without community. In fact, it is through being so well loved by those around me that I am no longer completely deaf, finally able to hear God rousing me through the megaphone of this hard, but hope-filled journey.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.