Category  |  Coping with Disease

Are You There?

When his wife contracted a terminal illness, Michael longed for her to experience the peace he had through his relationship with God. He had shared his faith with her, but she wasn’t interested. One day, as he walked through a local bookstore, a title caught his eye: God, Are You There? Unsure how his wife would respond to the book, he walked in and out of the store several times before finally buying it. To his surprise, she accepted it.

The book touched her, and she began to read the Bible too. Two weeks later, Michael’s wife passed away—at peace with God and resting in the assurance that He would never leave or forsake her.

When God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, He didn’t promise him power. Instead, He promised His presence: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). In Jesus’s last words to His disciples, He also promised God’s eternal presence, which they would receive through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).

There are many things God could give us to help us through life’s challenges, such as material comfort, healing, or immediate solutions to our problems. Sometimes He does. But the best gift He gives is Himself. This is the greatest comfort we have: whatever happens in life, He will be with us; He will never leave nor forsake us.

From Wailing to Worship

Kim began battling breast cancer in 2013. Four days after her treatment ended, doctors diagnosed her with a progressive lung disease and gave her three to five years to live. She grieved, sobbing prayers as she processed her emotions before God for the first year. By the time I met Kim in 2015, she had surrendered her situation to Him and radiated with contagious joy and peace. Though some days are still hard, God continues to transform her heart-wrenching suffering into a beautiful testimony of hope-filled praise as she encourages others.

Even when we’re in dire circumstances, God can turn our wailing into dancing. Though His healing won’t always look or feel like we’d hoped or expected, we can be confident in God’s power (Psalm 30:1–3). No matter how tear-stained our path may be, we have countless reasons to praise Him (v. 4). We can rejoice in God, as He secures our confident faith (vv. 5–7). We can cry out for His mercy (vv. 8–10), celebrating the hope He’s brought to many weeping worshipers. Only God can transform wails of despair into vibrant joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances (vv. 11–12).

As our merciful God comforts us in our sorrow, He envelops us in peace and empowers us to extend compassion toward others and ourselves. Our loving and faithful Lord can and does turn our wailing into worship that can lead to heart-deep trust, praise, and maybe even joyful dancing.

A Purpose in Pain?

When Siu Fen discovered she had kidney failure and would need dialysis for the rest of her life, she wanted to give up. Retired and single, the longtime Christian saw no point in prolonging her life. But friends convinced her to persevere and go for dialysis and trust in God to help her.

Two years later, she found her experience coming into play when she visited a friend from church with a debilitating disease. The woman felt alone, as few could truly understand what she was going through. But Siu Fen was able to identify with her physical and emotional pain and could connect with her in a special way. Her own journey enabled her to walk alongside the woman, giving her a special measure of comfort others couldn’t. “Now I see how God can still use me,” she said.

It can be hard to understand why we suffer. Yet God can use our affliction in unexpected ways. As we turn to Him for comfort and love in the midst of trial, it also empowers us to help others. No wonder Paul learned to see purpose in his own suffering: It gave him the opportunity to receive God’s comfort, which he could then use to bless others (2 Corinthians 1:3–­5). We’re not asked to deny our pain and suffering, but we can take heart in God’s ability to use it for good.

Praying and Growing

When my friend David’s wife developed Alzheimer’s disease, the changes it brought to his life made him bitter. He needed to retire early to care for her; and as the disease progressed, she required increasingly more care.

“I was so angry at God,” he told me. “But the more I prayed about it, the more He showed me my heart and how I had been selfish for most of our marriage.” Tears welled in his eyes as he confessed, “She’s been sick ten years, but God has helped me see things differently. Now, everything I do out of love for her, I also do for Jesus. Caring for her has become the greatest privilege of my life.”

 Sometimes God answers our prayers not by giving us what we want but by challenging us to change. When the prophet Jonah was angry because God spared the wicked city of Nineveh from destruction, God caused a plant to shade him from the hot sun (Jonah 4:6). Then He made it wither. When Jonah complained, God answered, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (vv. 7–9). Jonah, focused only on himself, insisted it was. But God challenged him to think about others and have compassion.

God sometimes uses our prayers in unexpected ways to help us learn and grow. It’s a change we can welcome with open hearts because He wants to transform us with His love.

A Song in the Night

My father’s life was one of longing. He longed for wholeness, even as Parkinson’s gradually crippled more and more of his mind and body. He longed for peace, but was tormented by the deep pain of depression. He longed to feel loved and cherished, but often felt utterly alone.

He found himself less alone when he read the words of Psalm 42, his favorite psalm. Like him, the psalmist knew a desperate longing, an unquenched thirst for healing (vv. 1–2). Like him, the psalmist knew a sadness that felt like it never went away (v. 3), leaving times of pure joy merely a distant memory (v. 6). Like my dad, as consuming waves of chaos and pain swept over (v. 7), the psalmist felt abandoned by God and asked, “Why?” (v. 9).

And as the words of the psalm washed over him, assuring him he was not alone, my father felt the beginnings of a quiet peace enter in alongside his pain. He heard a tender voice surrounding him, a voice assuring him that even though he had no answers, even though the waves still crashed over him, still he was dearly loved (v. 8).

And somehow hearing that quiet song of love in the night was enough. Enough for my dad to quietly cling to glimmers of hope, love, and joy. And enough for him to wait patiently for the day when all his longings would finally be satisfied (vv. 5, 11).

Honoring God with Thanks

The doctor wasn’t frowning, despite talking to my husband about his recent cancer diagnosis. Smiling, she offered a suggestion: start each day by giving thanks. “For at least three things,” the doctor said.  Dan agreed, knowing that gratitude opens our hearts to find encouragement in God’s goodness. Thus, Dan starts each day with words of praise. Thank You, God, for a good night’s sleep. For my clean bed. For sunshine. For breakfast on the table. For a smile on my lips.

Each word is heartfelt. But could it sound trivial? Does our praise in life’s small details matter to Almighty God? In Psalm 50, David’s chief musician Asaph offers a clear answer. God has “no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens” (v. 9). Instead of these once-formal Israelite sacrifices of gratitude, God wants His people to give Him our hearts and lives in gratitude (vv. 14, 23).

As my husband experienced, whole-hearted gratitude helps our spirits flourish. Then when we call on the Lord “in the day of trouble,” He will “deliver” us (v. 15).  Does this mean Dan will be healed, spiritually and physically, during his two-year treatment? Or after this lifetime? We don’t know. But for now, Dan delights in showing God he’s grateful for His love, and for who God is: Redeemer. Healer. Friend.  And friends delight to hear these beautiful words: thank you.

What We Can Do

Even though confined to his bed, 92-year-old Morrie Boogaart continues to knit hats for the homeless in Michigan. By February 2017, he had reportedly made over 8,000 hats in fifteen years. Instead of focusing on his health or limitations, Mr. Boogaart looks beyond himself and does what he can to place the needs of others above his own. He declared that his work made him feel good and gave him a purpose. “I’m going to do this until I go home to the Lord,” he said. Though most recipients of his hats won’t know his story or how much he sacrificed to create each love cap, Morrie’s simple act of persevering love is now inspiring people across the world.

We too can look past our struggles, place others before ourselves, and imitate our loving and compassionate Savior—Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1–5). God in the flesh—the King of Kings—took on the “very nature of a servant” in genuine humility (vv. 6–7). Giving His life—the ultimate sacrifice—He took our place on the cross (v. 8). Jesus gave everything for us . . . all for the glory of God the Father (vv. 9–11).

As Christ followers, it’s our privilege to show love and demonstrate concern for others through acts of kindness. Even if we don’t think we have much to offer, we can adopt the attitude of servanthood. We can actively seek opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives by simply doing what we can do.

Jesus Knows Why

I have friends who’ve received partial healing but still struggle with painful aspects of their disease. Other friends have been healed of an addiction but still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. And I wonder, Why doesn’t God heal them completely—once and for all?

In Mark 8:22–26, we read the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. Jesus first took the man away from the village. Then He spit on the man’s eyes and “put his hands on him.” The man said he now saw people who looked “like trees walking around.” Then Jesus touched the man’s eyes again, and this time he saw “everything clearly.”

In His ministry, Jesus’s words and actions often amazed and baffled the crowd and His followers (Matthew 7:28; Luke 8:10; 11:14) and even drove many of them away (John 6:60–66). No doubt this two-part miracle also caused confusion. Why not immediately heal this man?

We don’t know why. But Jesus knew what the man—and the disciples who viewed his healing—needed in that moment. And He knows what we need today to draw us closer in our relationship with Him. Though we won’t always understand, we can trust that God is working in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. And He will give us the strength, courage, and clarity we need to persevere in following Him.

Only by Prayer

My friend called me one late night during her cancer treatment. Grieved by her uncontrollable sobs, I soon added my own tears and a silent prayer. What am I supposed to do, Lord?

Her wails squeezed my heart. I couldn’t stop her pain, fix her situation, or find one intelligible word of encouragement. But I knew who could help. As I wept with my friend, stumbling through a prayer, I whispered repeatedly, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”

Her cries quieted to sniffs and whimpers, until her breathing slowed. Her husband’s voice startled me. “She’s asleep,” he said. “We’ll call tomorrow.”

I hung up, weeping prayers into my pillow.

The apostle Mark shares a story of another person who wanted to help his loved one. A desperate father brought his suffering son to Jesus (Mark 9:17). Doubt clung to his plea, as he reiterated the impossibility of their circumstances (vv. 20–22) and acknowledged his need for Jesus to empower his belief (v. 24). The father and son experienced freedom, hope, and peace when Jesus stepped in and took control (vv. 25–27).

When loved ones are hurting, it’s natural to want to do the right things and say the perfect words. But Christ is the only One who can truly help us. When we call on the name of Jesus, He can enable us to believe and rely on the power of His presence.

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