By Joy Crichton
My best friend’s husband has aggressive cancer. Each day I hear the weariness of this journey in Laurie’s voice as she struggles with God’s movement in their lives. This diagnosis changes everything. The unimportant drops away and her focus sharpens on the meaningful and necessary things. Her time with Jerry is running out. Life as she knows it is slipping away. She feels Job’s anguish when, surrounded by the ashes of his former life, he cried out, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me” (Job 3:25, all verses from English Standard Version).
Little to Do Except Be with Her
When I’m with Laurie I’m desperate to do something to alleviate her suffering or lighten her burden or give her hope. I’ve baked comfort food, run errands, and arranged my schedule to help. But, in the end, I find little to do except be with her.
It sounds like little, but it isn’t. I’ve experienced suffering too. According to 1 Peter 5, support by those who also suffer is one of the keys to not just enduring suffering but surviving it. Peter encourages those who suffer to remember that their suffering isn’t unique to them. “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood” (v. 9).
The previous year we almost lost our 15-year-old daughter to a serious illness. For three months I, too, slept in a pullout bed in her hospital room. I, too, knew the disappointment of failed drug therapies and the worry of watching someone you love reduced to such a malaise that it steals the appetite. I’d stood aside and watched in horror as the room filled with doctors and a crash cart in a fight for my child’s life. I knew a life that, without warning, fell apart. I’d felt the fear of a future you can’t even bring yourself to predict.
And in the midst of all that misery, I shared the feeling Laurie now feels of God standing far off, as if hiding himself in time of trouble. Walking the terrible road of illness and death is never made easy, but it is lightened when those who share your experience walk it with you.
Little to Do Except Pray for Her
As we walk the valley, my heart breaks for my friend and I feel powerless to help. There is little to do except pray. Even saying that makes me laugh, as if prayer is the least we can do. We are concentrating our complete efforts on being still and knowing he is God in the midst of the chaos that suffering makes of our lives.
Suffering reminds me of a tornado in its sudden destruction and churning gale. Yet in the blare of the sirens and roar of the wind, prayer shelters our loved ones in safety while the funnel clouds suck away all that we thought was secure and normal. I can’t do anything to stop that storm, but I can do something to save the ones I love, even if that something seems like inactivity. So I “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” so that Laurie and I “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
I can’t help but beg God for healing and rescue, wisdom for doctors, and provision for medications—but most of all I beg him for my friend that her faith will hold strong and hope she will trust and someday see the great work of glory this suffering has done in her life.
Little to Do Except Remind Her of the Cross
As I pray my eyes swing to the cross. There are so many questions in this valley. Jerry is a great Christian who loves others and invests his life in meeting needs and leading others in a deeper walk with Christ. In their lives together Laurie and Jerry knew infertility, they’d each buried parents, and Laurie herself had survived cancer. Questions swirled in both of our minds. Why Jerry? Why was God allowing this? Why didn’t he rescue them? Did he care that their hearts were breaking? I shared her confusion, and there was little I could do except remind her of the cross.
God’s Word tells us to remember the sufferings of Christ when we are persecuted, when we need to forgive, when we are being disciplined, and when we are suffering. The cross provides a new perspective on suffering. I come away, if not with the answers to my questions, at least knowing that even in the mystery the God who suffered willingly on my behalf can be trusted. This King has his glory and thus my good as his goal. And he is all-powerful. My present dilemma isn’t beyond his power. He may heal. He may rescue. And if not, I am assured that his power is at work for me in more important ways.
On the cross they taunted Jesus, demanding he show his power and come down off the cross. His true power was to remain on the cross to complete his sacrificial work for his Father’s glory and our redemption. Much of my Christian life I thought the cross was only about my entrance into the family of God. His sacrifice paid my sin debt. I was unaware for many years that the greatest display of who God is and how he works was displayed that day on Golgotha’s hill, and that display provides our greatest hope, shores up our faith, and, when nothing seems to make sense, secures our peace.
Little to Do Except Help Her Wait
These glimpses of the cross help calm the swirling questions, and I again find myself longing to do more and realize there is little to do but help Laurie wait. Wait for the sadness to ebb. Wait for God to work. Wait for rescue. Peter said, “After you have suffered for a little while . . .” (1 Peter 5:10). Our suffering is temporary. God may or may not heal in our realm of time, but he will heal. We who know Christ live because he lives. Laurie and I walk together, and we remind ourselves to be patient with God.
So I wear my prayer mat thin before the throne and wait for God to move. At times, for myself and for my friend, I’m disappointed at his seeming lack of activity in our lives. But I know he is definitely on the move—though maybe not moving the things I think most urgent.
The psalmist cried out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1). During the darkest part of the valley, God seems far away. It reminds us of the dark hours on the cross. Those three hours ended with Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Maybe if we felt God’s presence, the valley wouldn’t be dark, and maybe, for us, it takes the darkness to see the full display of God’s glory.
Author Annie Dillard points out, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required” (Teaching a Stone to Talk). This is true of God’s work in our lives. All the time his glory is there, shining brightly, but sometimes I have to sit in the darkness for my earthly eyes, clouded by the cataracts of humanity, to see it.
So Laurie and I sit in the darkness, clinging to the promise of our God. It is the same promise he made to past believers who have suffered. After comforting them with reminders that others also suffered, Christ suffered, and that their suffering wouldn’t be forever, Peter assured fellow Christians that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). In other words, Christ’s followers who suffer—Jerry, Laurie, and me included—won’t just see his glory, we will be the display of it.
Joy Crichton, after years as a missionary, now lives with her husband and five children in Johnston, Rhode Island, as a pastor’s wife, English teacher, and blogger.
What to Say
Nancy Guthrie and her husband have lost two children and minister on the topic of grief. She offers the best things to say to grieving people:
• “I don’t know what to say.” This respects the loss without having the answers.
• “I’m so sad.” They’ll know they aren’t alone in grief.
• Crying with them. Tears offer a sense of carrying the load of sorrow with them.