When I was in the midst of my cancer deal (surgery, radiation, yada-yada-yada), I wondered if my cancer counted in the big, wide world of suffering.
Did my cancer count – especially in my suffering as a follower of Christ?
You may think this is a crazy question to ask and dismiss it.
However, I really wanted to know. If I was completely honest, I’ve been reflecting on this question ever since I was diagnosed with cancer.
You see, I’m a missionary. I’m one of those people who left my extended family, my home culture and country, my teaching career, and so much more to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and minister in His name in a different part of the world. Some might say, that to do such a thing, is an act of suffering.
However, what I discovered to be the most challenging aspect of my cancer journey wasn’t the cancer itself. It was the amount of people who prayed for me – because I was sick.
The prayers uttered on my behalf were not spoken because I was a missionary – but because I was a missionary with cancer – a missionary who chose not to return to her home country for treatment.
I really struggled with that.
I recognized that the prayers were offered because of my illness – all of which I truly appreciated and am grateful for. However, these prayers may not have been uttered due to the redemptive work I was doing in South Africa. Once my health improved and I began the road to becoming cancer secure – the avalanche of extra prayers slowed to a ripple.
People moved on.
So I wondered.
I still wonder.
Did my cancer deal count?
And if yes, what did it count for?
I realize that for a specific time and specific space, my cancer united others all over the world with me. There is nothing like the disease of cancer to heighten our sensitivity and concern. Most people have been touched by this awful malady in one way or another; either being diagnosed themselves or having the diagnosis assigned to someone dear. Thus, I understood that my cancer somehow bound me to the hearts of people who had endured this disease in one way or another.
They reached out to me.
In 2nd Corinthians, we read:
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so you also share in our comfort.
New International Version, II Corinthians 1:7
The hope described in this verse is not a hope that someone’s health will improve – like my cancer. No, this hope is based upon the joyful, triumphant saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The suffering expressed in II Corinthians 1:7 is not a suffering necessarily related to illness either. No, this suffering describes the afflictions Believers must experience on behalf of their Savior Jesus Christ as they live out a transformational life in honor of Him.
And the comfort?
The comfort distinguished in the verse is the consolation, encouragement, solace and refreshment that is offered when a friend draws near to the lost, broken and hurting soul.
You see, one could easily apply this verse to my cancer situation. We do that. We plop ourselves in the middle of a verse and glean what we want – especially what we most want to hear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – but too often, we make much of the Bible about us – instead of about Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit.
And I think that is what I struggle with when I become known as the cancer-stricken missionary or that missionary that had cancer.
I desire that the consolation and care I receive focus upon what Jesus Christ is doing for the sake of His kingdom – not merely for the sake of my health. My cancer was and is a circumstance of life. It came. It affected. It left its mark. And although I am still not cancer secure even now, I’m not living like a person with cancer. Honestly, I rarely write about or even talk about it.
Today, I’m living life as a missionary.
I was a missionary before cancer.
I was a missionary with cancer.
I am a missionary living life beyond cancer.
Please understand, I recognize that I received amazing spiritual comfort during my cancer journey. I was prayed for like you wouldn’t believe when I was in the midst of that cancer deal. I know that. I felt that. I will never deny that. Those prayers lifted me, sustained me, helped me, and strengthened me. People chose to draw near to me and remain with me as I journeyed forward with cancer. I am grateful for every healing prayer, every word of support, and every exhortation of hope. Very grateful.
Because of those comforting, steadfast, and sustaining prayers from across the world and the excellent medical care I received in my adopted home country, I am still here.
Maybe I don’t have the amount of prayer support that I did when I had cancer, but maybe that tidal wave of prayer came so that I could still be here to minister in the name of Jesus Christ nearly five years on from my diagnosis. I still have the passion, endurance and ability to share about my love and devotion of Jesus Christ with others in southern Africa and throughout the world. I still desire to encourage others in life and in faith. That’s a great gift.
Jesus once said:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
New International Version, John 16:33
His words ring true.
In this world, I will have trouble – like cancer, like discouragement, like loss. But in Christ, I may take heart! Jesus Christ overcame the world and every one of its maladies and complaints. Its diseases, its struggles, its challenges, its corruption, its heartbreak, and its suffering are all real and a very big deal in their own right. However, each affliction is nothing compared to the peace that is ours in Christ. My hope, my strength, and my consolation are not found in any person, object, or change in circumstance. Rather, my hope, my joy, my strength, and my comfort are found in Jesus Christ.
This is why the hope of Christ is so important. We discover that as we patiently endure and hold fast to Jesus – no matter our struggle or circumstance – we live a triumphant, hope-filled life in Him. And ultimately that is what a Believer’s life is all about, isn’t it?
Maybe, just maybe that is how my cancer counts.
Cancer has expanded my view like never before…