The most common (and expected) question that caring people are asking us during our cancer journey is what can we do? That is what Christians should ask Christians when a person is going through suffering. It’s a comforting question. It’s a practical matter. It’s also a contoured inquiry.
Two essential aspects of suffering are the needs to participate in and learn from it. After many opportunities to go through hard things in my life, I have learned there is a need to experience and learn from the suffering entirely. There are lessons in pain, and though the temptation is to get out of it as fast as you can–a reasonable prayer request–there is another element that is necessary: stop, wait, and learn.
There is a purpose in suffering, and if the only response is to resist the trial, you will miss the God-centered goals. Though nobody prays for pain, no biblical thinking Christian should waste it. Thus, the question is, how are you stewarding the Lord’s most feared gift: suffering (Philippians 1:29)?
Teach the Children
An important aspect of this discussion about a theology of suffering is the importance of allowing our children to enter into it with us, specifically with Lucia. There is a significant gospel implication here. Jesus took on the form of a servant to be like us (Philippians 2:6-11). Becoming like us was not just for our salvation (Hebrews 2:14-15), but also to help the human Jesus relate well to us (Hebrews 4:15). Detachment from our lives is not who Jesus is. He is in tune with us, especially our sufferings and temptations.
Relating to the suffering of Jesus is why my response to the question, how can I help you is, don’t help us, as far as cutting our grass, washing our clothes, buying our groceries, or cleaning our home. Lucia and I have a fabulous parenting opportunity right in front of us: to lead our children in stepping up–in a limited way–so they can participate in the suffering of their mother. They get to do some of the things she has historically done for them.
You can think of it in the opposite: if the Christian community did everything for us (and our children), our kids would not benefit from what the Lord has written into our family narrative. I humorously told a friend that they may even want me to have surgery next so they can continue to have “round the clock” maids, butlers, and grounds crews pampering them.
But can’t we do something? What I’m not saying is we don’t want your help. (Whatever God “tells” you to do.) We have no desire to shut out the Christian community. That’s weird. That’s wrong. They would not be able to “enter into our suffering” with us. They would not be able to experience–in a limited way–what God is doing in and through us. A healthy body is 100% engaged with the body when part of the body is hurting. We want and expect the external body to do something.
The need for others to help is where meals, cards, and individual gifts are excellent. Our Christian friends give, I give, and our children give. Everybody gets to play. And since my kids’ culinary inclinations have not matured to where they will be in twenty years, it’s a huge blessing when someone randomly shows up at our door with food.
Children, Suffering, and the Gospel
Lucia and I are always in search of ways to teach our children about the practical gospel. And, boy, do we have an enormous privilege that the Lord put in our laps that can lift up the amazing-ness of Christ.
Though we intentionally govern down and mask some of the details of what’s going on with Lucia because it’s not appropriate for our children to know those things, we must place before them opportunities to serve so they can mature in Christlike character qualities and attitudes.
The home is a parental laboratory where children can experience in bite-size ways what they will experience in super-sized ways all their lives. Suffering is one of those things. It’s waiting out there, somewhere, in their future. We hope they will learn a few things about suffering and Christ before they leave the lab.
Our primary hope is that it will increase their appreciation for Christ as they think about His willingness to serve us in our fallenness. Christ entered into our suffering, and we want our kids to imitate Him that way.
A secondary hope is that this cancer journey will increase their appreciation for the work that Lucia does day in and day out. They see some of what Lucia does, but they do not do what Lucia does. Now they get to do what she does, which takes all three of them to do what their mom does. How awesome is that for them to carry Lucia’s load.
Thanking the Body
We are thankful for how the external body of Christ has pitched in with prayers, notes, gifts, food, and conversations. We are also grateful for the internal body of Christ–Rick, Tristen, Haydn, Ansa–that gets to pitch in to serve a weakened member of the body–dearest Lucia.