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The Gift of Suffering


I walked out of the clinic in a stupor. The sky seemed less colorful, the spring air less fresh, my legs less stable. I had testicular cancer.

More blood tests, ultrasounds, X-rays. My dad flying in a few days before the surgery date. Surgery. Almost passing out in the bathroom after getting home. Passing out in the hospital a few weeks later. Months of chest X-rays and CT scans and blood tests to determine whether or not they got it all. Years of chest X-rays and CT scans and blood tests.

Five years of this, and the doctor gave me the good news: The surgery five years earlier was completely successful. I was now officially cancer-free. I was a survivor.

Did God ordain my cancer? I don’t know. Did I do something to cause the cancer? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am grateful for having gone through cancer. Yeah, you read that right. I’m grateful that the Lord used that time to teach me to trust more in Him, to not fear talking with others about Him, to place some things high on the priority list and other things lower on that list.

I didn’t get tied in knots with all the “why” questions, frankly. I knew God was good, and He was guiding me each day through my illness. And that was exhilarating, as though I were on the cutting edge of life. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? God knows. And He had been faithful before; He would continue being faithful. Of course. Why should I question Him now?

My cancer solidified faith and character. And that’s a good thing. (And I’m not the only one to see the potential benefits of going through cancer.)

I’m no biblical scholar, but that does sound consistent with Scripture. We know, for example, that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). For good!

And who knows? Maybe the cancer was being used as a kind of discipline. Not punishment, since God does not punish His children, but discipline. And if it was discipline, that’s a good thing — even a gift. After all, the Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). He “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Suffering does that: It produces in us fruit of righteousness. It allows us to share God’s holiness.

Whether my cancer was brought about by God’s decree, by Adam’s sin or by my carelessness, I don’t know. Regardless who was at fault for the cancer, the Lord used that season of suffering to discipline me for good.

* * *

And now, oddly enough, I find myself thinking of another kind of suffering: the suffering of a single adult who longs to be married. They may be single because of bad choices; they may be single because of no fault of their own. I don’t know. But just as the Lord did a good work in me through my suffering with cancer, I believe the Lord can do a good work in those who suffer in their singleness.

Of course, I sought out a physician to deal with my cancer. That was a good idea. And it’s a fine idea for marriage-minded singles to seek help in bringing an end to their suffering as well. You don’t just sit there and not deal with the root cause of your suffering.

But at the same time, I believe that one of the richest and most fulfilling joys of this life is serving the Lord in the midst of our suffering and allowing Him to make us more Christ-like through our suffering.

You may be called to a lifetime of serving the Lord as a single adult. I commend you. Suffering for the Lord by forfeiting spouse and children is honorable.

Or you may be called to marriage, and ache for it. Let me encourage you to do something about it, just as I dealt with the thing that brought me suffering. But don’t despise this season: The suffering you experience may very well be a gift.

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