by Anna Miller
You’ve probably heard it said that suffering doesn’t discriminate. It happens to the young and the old. The rich and the poor. The faithful and the unfaithful. I was a young adult before I finally came to terms with the fact that trying to be a really, really good Christian did not mean I could escape the effects of living in a fallen world.
So, if the harsh reality is that, despite our best efforts, we can’t escape suffering, then the next logical thing to ask is, How do I work through it when it happens? And even more so as a believer in Jesus Christ, How can I honor Him during my suffering? I’ve had a lot of time to wrestle with these thoughts over the past several years, and I hope our family’s story will bring you some encouragement.
A couple of years after our marriage, my husband and I began excitedly discussing how we felt ready to have children. I had known from a very young age that I wanted to be a mother, and my husband and I were both ready for the joys and responsibilities of parenthood. It would be two long years before we found out we were pregnant, and when Ian was finally born our joy was off the charts. He was a long-awaited gift, and his name actually means, “God’s gracious gift”!
Those first few months of parenting were tiring, but we were so, so happy. Ian was growing and learning new things every day. Besides his well-check visits, we were barely at the doctor for anything else. When he was around 16 months old, we both started to notice his balance was off when he was walking. And then he started to vomit every morning when he woke up. And then his eye started to wander. We sat in our beloved pediatrician’s office hoping he would tell us it was something he could explain away easily, but the next thing we knew we were at the hospital waiting for our baby to have a scan. Our doctor suspected hydrocephalus, or extra fluid on the brain, but it was worse. Our doctor could barely choke out the words as our hearts fell to the floor. Our baby had a 6 cm brain tumor in his right frontal lobe. Further tests would reveal that it was cancer and treatments would be harsh.
Medically, his chances were not good, but thankfully our hope is held in a sovereign King, Jehovah Rapha, who has the final say. The next year was filled with multiple brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and then moving our family to another state so Ian could receive proton beam radiation. We watched him lose his appetite, his energy, and his hair. We watched him suffer. Hard. It was almost too much to bear.
But . . . God. He was there every step of the way. His Word held truths for our aching souls that we clung to and prayed over our son every day. God mobilized the body of Christ to cover us in intercessory prayer and to encourage us and supply our physical needs. He gave Ian the sweetest spirit that allowed him to laugh and play even on some really hard days. And He taught us how to honor Him in the midst of it all.
We learned that praise and worship, even when you don’t feel like it, can lighten your heart and change your whole countenance. We learned that placing your complete trust and faith in your sovereign Lord can bring peace that passes all understanding. And we learned that when your life exhibits these qualities during suffering, God will bring others into your path who need that same hope. They want what you have, and thankfully that gift is available to all.
Nine years later as Ian was growing and thriving, cancer seemed to be in our rear-view mirrors; but then he received another diagnosis. The radiation that was used to save his life had caused another cancer in his skull bone. More heartbreak. More surgeries. More chemotherapy. More suffering. But God was still there. His love and care for Ian have never stopped. Our faith and trust in God’s ability to see us through whatever we face have not wavered.
We give God all the glory that we recently celebrated a full year of Ian being cancer free. Again.
God will continue to use our story as parents to minister to others who have to journey down this unwanted path of parenting a sick child. And God will continue to use Ian’s personal testimony of suffering as He gives him the voice and the platform to tell it.
Two years ago, Ian walked up to us after church to tell us he knew that God wanted him to become a Christian. He said he knew he needed to be a Christian because God had put a calling on his heart to go out into the world to tell people how much He loves them. What a great calling that has come from suffering! May we all learn to honor God through our suffering in a way that brings others to know the hope of Jesus Christ—our ultimate victory!
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This post supports the study “How Can I Honor God in My Suffering?” in Bible Studies for Life.