This article was previously published in Abby’s blog on Patheos.com. I have a friend who has cancer. It’s pretty advanced. He’s suffering a lot. He already has 4 kinds of cancer, and last week they found a cancerous brain tumor. Cancer number five. After a quick operation, he is back to his old self…with only 4 kinds of cancer. Why is this happening to him?
I had surgery several years ago and before going in they asked me if I had a living will. I wondered what that was, so I looked it up. A living will is a document outlining your wishes for your health care if you are no longer able to decide or communicate them. So, with that document, I can ask doctors not to do anything to prolong my life if I’m terribly sick. And a part of me wondered if that was technically a ‘get out of jail free’ card for earth life.
Then my friend got the brain tumor and I thought, briefly, that this could be his ‘get out of jail free’ card. If they just let things run their course, he could be free of his diseased body. But I only thought about it briefly. Honestly, I am thankful he is still with us. But his level of suffering has really made me think… a lot.
Why does God let us suffer? I know that freedom of choice as one of God’s key gifts to mankind. He will never take away our freedom to choose. That is why some people suffer so much at the hands of others. I hate that. But I get it. However, when it comes to seemingly random health problems, or birth defects, or medical issues, that’s when I have to ask myself all over again what is going on.
I have a quote I found a few years ago that I have on my wall. It’s a quote from Russell M. Nelson. It says “Stellar Spirits are often housed in imperfect bodies.” I put it on my wall around the time my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s /Autism. I remember feeling crushed for him. I never wanted him to endure the challenges that Autism will give him. I cried for what I knew would be years of difficulty. No parent wants their child to suffer.
And slowly, as I have continued watching my child grow up, I have seen what a beautiful and strong soul he really has. He makes me proud of him every day! A lot of the quirks he has that used to stress me out have turned out to be his talents emerging. For example, he started taking everything apart when he was 4 and 5. I couldn’t leave anything sitting out because it would be in pieces in a pile when I went back for it. It was so inconvenient having to reassemble the remote control 3 times a day.
Fast forward to yesterday, where my robot vacuum fell off the bench and broke. There were four kinds of sensor errors. I thought it was toast. But my son didn’t bat an eye. He just took it apart- into a million pieces. He examined every inch of it, cleaned it up, and put it back together. And it works again! He’s only nine years old, and he is fixing my vacuum! Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell the mom I was several years ago to relax. I would tell her that these challenges were headed somewhere good.
I think I am beginning to understand the whole point of these heartaches of life. God is working to bring out our talents. My friend with cancer is a stellar spirit housed in an imperfect body, prone to cancer. As he is enduring tests and terrible treatments, he is learning things about himself. And the people around him are learning too.
God is giving us a chance to find out the answers. It’s painful. But I’m also learning more about the nature of God. Just like me, God hates to see His children suffer. But He knows the end from the beginning. And He knows that there are limited directions one can take to reach the happy ending He has in mind for each of us. His perspective is perfect, and His vision is clear. I am learning to trust my Heavenly Father more as I begin to understand Him and His motives better. There is nothing that He wants more than to witness our triumph over all our trials.
We agreed to this
I believe we each sat down with God before we came to earth. Together we went over each of the challenges we would face. In that meeting with God, we agreed to everything, because it was easy in that eternal place to see where each challenge would lead. We were prepared to suffer for a purpose.
Now we are in the midst of some of the most painful challenges we have ever had in all eternity. And it is easy to forget why we agreed to it. But the truth is that we trusted God. We knew Him and knew that His goals for us end in glory.
Our challenge is to keep trusting God, looking for the good things around us, and to be grateful for what we learn from each difficulty.
I am not happy my friend is sick. But I have never seen anyone with such a sense of humor. He is cracking jokes and brightening lives no matter where he is. I think that is one of his talents. And as he is sharing them, we are all gaining greater strength to keep facing our own hardships. I really feel we are stronger together. And I’m grateful for what I am learning through my challenges.
Abby is a one of those women who accidentally finds herself on the PTA board. She loves to be involved, and nothing matters more to her than her family and her faith. She comes from a family with many autistic members. And now she gets to see how her mother felt raising an autistic son. As she wades into this new world, she invites us to join her. Hopefully, we will all learn something new along the way. If you or a family member have autism yourself, Abby wants you to know that this isn't a bad thing. It's just an adjustment, and you or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will learn this new language.