By Rachel Syens
June 15, 2020
In a matter of minutes, my world was turned upside-down. The tests came back, and we received a devastating diagnosis: my mom had cancer. Health crises can leave us feeling hopeless and afraid of an unknown future. Amid this loss of control, when grieving for ourselves or a loved one, we may feel that God has abandoned us. How can we find God in the midst of a health crisis like this? Where is God in the middle of so much hurt? Where is he in my pain?
Where are you? I’ve spent years repeating this question in my prayers as I’ve watched my mom’s journey with cancer: diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. Why did you let this happen? Why have you abandoned us? If these questions sound familiar, it’s because you’re not alone. Christians have grappled with these questions for thousands of years. We find one example in Psalm 22:1-2: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” Like the psalmist, I have felt forsaken. I have felt helpless, watching the ones I love, the very best people I know, suffer undeservedly through health crises. I have been angry at God; I have questioned God; and I have felt ignored by God. We learn from Psalm 22 that God validates these feelings. And I have learned that not only is it acceptable for us to ask these questions, but God encourages it (Psalm 55:22). In us, God created intelligent beings with a deep capacity for love and empathy—able to feel sadness and anger for ourselves and those we care about. In her book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans examines the story of Jacob wrestling God (Genesis 32:22-32), writing “I'm still wrestling, and like Jacob, I will wrestle until I am blessed. God hasn't let go of me yet.” We are God’s children—he loves and cares for us in the good and the bad; in the midst of our suffering he is still our God.
When I first learned of my mom’s cancer diagnosis several years ago, I was upset. My vision clouded by a sense of helplessness, I turned to a familiar passage from my childhood, Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” A Sunday school favorite, I had memorized this verse and recited it countless times. The meaning of it changed for me as it became my mantra, in a sense, during my mom’s surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Verse 4 sticks with me in particular: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” We can turn to familiar verses, passages, and stories to find hope in scripture. Throughout the Bible, God assures us that though we walk in the darkest valleys, we need not be afraid—God “daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19) and urges us to remember that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
As a caregiver and one walking alongside those facing health crises, I also find hope in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” One old adage says that in order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves. I find hope in knowing that God will provide me with comfort and peace so that I may pass that on to those fighting the difficulties of health crises.
Recently, a friend of mine suffered a seizure. She went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When I asked her how I could support her, she answered: “I think praying is the main thing.” Through prayer, we can bring our pain, our suffering, our hurt, our anger, and leave it with God.
Like many, I regularly see a therapist. My weekly sessions provide me with a safe environment to express all of my emotions, and I come out feeling lighter. I approach prayer in much the same way. My prayers do not follow a specific form or happen at a designated time. I simply pray for the things weighing down my heart. I pray when my soul feels weary. I pray for strength when I have none. I pray so that God may remove my burdens and give me the courage to face another day. I pray for healing, but I also pray that God will extend his grace to those I love, those suffering the midst of diagnoses, tests, surgeries, and treatments. Prayer allows us to express our fear and leave with a sense of peace amid the unknown.
I pray that you are able to find comfort, hope, and peace through God; may his hand may rest upon you and replenish your body and soul.
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God never promises that life will be easy on this side of eternity, but he does promise to be present with us through the Holy Spirit.
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