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Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada