I recently attended a women’s seminar taught by a published author who focused on helping Christian women become Biblical lay counselors. I signed up for this event for two reasons: First, I find myself in the world of childhood cancer, connecting with mothers whose child has just been diagnosed with cancer or who have lost a child to cancer or whose child seems to be losing the battle against cancer. I ache for these women with deep empathy and some understanding of their hurting hearts. I want to serve them in some capacity. Secondly, I need answers, help and Biblical truth myself. I long for peace in my soul after years of inner turmoil. I struggle with “survivor’s guilt”. Why is my son still alive? I am no better than any other mother who finds herself in a similar nightmare. My son and I are no more deserving.
The speaker surprised me with her small grandmotherly stature and gentle, quiet way of speaking. She was funny too, as she reminded me of many Biblical truths I have heard over the years. But when she took us to the book of Job in the Bible, tears began to slide down my face. Just before Josh was diagnosed with cancer, I had been wrestling with the verse in Job where he states, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” I remember thinking I wasn’t so sure I could say those same words, yet I felt a stirring in my soul to say them out loud. Then my son became seriously ill.
Job lost EVERYTHING, his livelihood, his servants, his children and even his health. Yet, he continued to trust God. Of course, he also questioned all God had allowed to come his way. Believe me; I’ve questioned God a lot. There is nothing in this world quite as devastating as watching your precious child suffer. But even harder still is watching your child take his/her last breath. Thank God, I haven’t had to be burdened with that sadness, but I know many mothers who have. Though it doesn’t make it any easier, Job’s children died suddenly. It wasn’t a long, heartbreaking process like two mothers I know are enduring at this very moment.
God the father, on the other hand, allowed and watched His son, Jesus Christ suffer and die. He did not deny us the death of His son for the forgiveness or our sins. Mary, Jesus’s mother, must have born unbelievable agonies as she stood at the foot of her son’s cross. I’ve caught glimpses of this distress as Josh endured cancer treatment. The pain is literally tangible and alive. I sense other mother’s aching just as concretely, the women who are journeying a similar road. And I came to understand thru the speaker, this is my “sacred sacrifice”. I see myself prostrate before God laying down these years of heartache before Him, offering my son to Him, offering all my children and my husband to Him…essentially…offering Him my life. The answers of why or how could a loving God allow this or any of the other deep questions is still there. But it does alleviate, just a little, the “survivor’s guilt” I feel. It does take a little of the edge off of my distress. I’m settled in with knowing that’s all I have to offer Him, though out of my control. It boils down to TRUST.
(Please do not think I am comparing myself or anyone else with Jesus Christ and/or Mary.)
Jesus talks about counting the cost of following Him, but I see how just living life has a cost. For me it has come in the hurt of a child diagnosed with cancer, who has survived treatment, but deals with damaging, life altering side effects. It comes with the knowledge of his higher risks of heart problems, strokes and secondary cancers due to radiation and chemotherapy. It comes with the physical limitations due to a “compression fracture” of his vertebra and the fear of him becoming paralyzed. It comes with the balance of allowing my son to run and play; to be a boy, yet not putting him in a bubble. Would God have allowed this in my life if I hadn’t been a believer, I wonder? Just because I am a follower of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean I am spared any catastrophe. But I wonder why God allowed it. The speaker reminded me the Bible tells us how going through these agonies sifts out the junk in our lives helping us to become more Christ like. Part of me feels privileged with this thought…part of me feels downright angry.
The leader went on to emphasize how all things are for our good thru Jesus Christ. That’s a tough one for me as I watch "L" agonize over the choices she must make concerning her son’s cancer relapse. They’ve been fighting this beast since 2004 with prayer, medical doctors and alternative treatments. "K" whose daughter is in the hospital again due to complications from a trial chemotherapy drug for her daughter’s relapse, debates “quality of life” and what’s best for her little girl. "M", an 8 year old, is weary of the battle as she faces life and death questions with the help of a counselor. Though strong in her faith, she doesn’t want to die and is filled with anxiety. I must trust good will come of this?
I climb into bed telling God I just don’t understand. How can I become more Christ like with such anger in me? How can I become more like Him with this confusion? I hand it over to Him again and again, because there is nothing else I can do. I try to love these hurting mothers with words of encouragement, sending up a thousand prayers a day. I stand beside them sometimes in spirit sometimes in body. The compassion and heart I have for these women surely is Christ in me. This is how I know Christ I am Christ like, by sharing in their affliction.
As a believer, we are to thank God in all circumstances, but I cannot thank God for childhood cancer. It is not from Him, but He has allowed it. What a fine line of meaning in those words. I know we are His creation. I know compared to His holiness, we are deceitfully wicked. I know we really have no rights to ourselves. I know He is just, holy, sovereign and on and on. But I find myself balancing on that fine line trying not to fall off. I can only offer Him what I have endured with His permission as my “sacred sacrifice” being grateful of where I am. My friend "M" has given the ultimate “sacred sacrifice”, her 12 year old son.
I have not abandoned my God…He has not left me.
That’s my sacrificial thanksgiving…