One of the areas that I really appreciate about biblical counseling is that we are growing in our understanding of suffering from a biblical perspective. There are a growing number of books written from a solid biblical perspective on suffering and they are wrestling with the many truths that the Bible teaches us about the reality and importance of suffering.
How we personally deal with suffering will either powerfully enhance our counseling, or it will set us on the shelf.
In my own life, I have had to deal with chronic pain, loss of loved ones, and many other painful experiences. None of these compare to the lessons God has been teaching me over this summer.
In April my wife was diagnosed with cancer.
She had a tumor that was growing on her tongue, her tonsils, and her soft palate. We finally got an appointment with a highly recommended oral surgeon who has been a godsend for us. Our first meeting with him ended with a difficult conversation. He told us what he suspected was going on and what he wanted to do.
He said that he thought the cancer would be operable and that we would probably want to follow up with radiation and possibly with chemotherapy. He was very upbeat and confident. He said we needed more information to confirm his diagnosis and so we needed to have a more thorough examination while my wife was under anesthesia. We scheduled the procedure and waited.
After the procedure was complete and my wife was recovering from anesthesia, our doctor found me and gave me his report. The tumor was more advanced than he had expected and it was not operable. We were limited in our treatment options to radiation.
We had already discussed the possible complications of radiation and knew that this was a brutal path my wife would have to go down if she wanted to treat her cancer. The doctor was still upbeat and told me he was confident that this cancer was the type related to a virus and that the results for radiation on this type of cancer were very good. In spite of not being able to surgically remove the tumor and use radiation to make sure we got all the cancer, we would most likely be able to kill the cancer and my wife had a very good prognosis. He did mention the other type of neck and mouth cancer had a poorer prognosis, but we were very likely dealing with the first form of cancer. A biopsy would confirm what we were dealing with.
The biopsy came back and we had a follow up meeting with the doctor to plan the next steps of treatment.
The cancer we were dealing with was not related to the virus.
Our doctor, true to form, was upbeat. He knew that we were in good hands and that the radiation would likely kill the cancer. He encouraged us to start treatment quickly. My wife was wrestling with questions about whether or not the treatment was worse than the disease. We still had more questions to ask and we spoke with the next two doctors. We had a meeting with the doctor who would oversee the radiation and the doctor who would oversee the chemotherapy. They made clear that we needed the treatments and that while they were among the most brutal types of treatment for cancer that they could likely kill the cancer.
God Redemptively at Work
One of the truths I press on my clients is that God is always redemptively at work. He is always doing good and building His kingdom. I ask my clients to pray that God will not only accomplish His work, but reveal to them what He is doing so that they can trust Him and join Him in that work however God calls them to.
I was at a point where I desperately needed that focus and cried out to God to show me His presence and goodness in the midst of my own circumstances. Every time we could get better or worse news it seemed like we were getting worse case news. I could either believe God had somehow walked away, or that He was doing something good I did not understand. I understood how hard it can be for people in very difficult places to rest in the Father’s loving care.
God has taken the cancer that was killing my wife and killed the cancer. She is cancer free at this time. We are dealing with life changing complications from her treatment. The battle is far from over. God has answered many of our prayers, both for particular outcomes, and also to reveal His loving presence and power even when we could wrongly interpret our circumstances to demonstrate He was silent, or even absent. He has always been there. He has always been at work for His good, and for our good. He has enabled us to interpret our circumstances through His revelation.
I have also seen how God is powerfully using His work in our circumstances to enhance my counseling and to provide much better care for the clients He entrusts to me.
The Map or the Guide on the Journey
Dave Powlison once said that a map is helpful, but it is much better to talk with someone who knows where we are going. The map can tell me how to get there and the names of the streets I have to take to get there. Someone who has been there can tell me what the roads are like and which restaurants will give me the best food. As God shapes us through our journeys and our trials, we are able to help our clients to know the details and nuances of the road ahead. I am so grateful that God is using our pain to care for others.