Suffering Is Normal
Peter Schwarzer, one of our beloved members, has been battling leukemia. He very recently wrote this message to our church family, which his wife, Sabia, shared with us this past Sunday, 12/14. Here is the transcript.
Suffering Is Normal
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of May. I was discharged from acute care last week and pronounced in remission after a bone marrow transplant.
It is only sinking in that the worst is over. We have been in an intense crisis and suffering mode for many months and the idea that it couldn’t be any better right now is still new.
And in all this, one of the recurring themes of our journey from the start has been that God said “there is nothing special about your suffering”.
A look around us confirms just that.
- Our neighbor opposite lost his 36-year old daughter suddenly
- At age 60, our neighbors to the right had to move in with relatives, as their house was foreclosed and their business went bust.
- To my left, the neighbor’s grandchild has a chronic condition, the daughter is divorced and deals with a schizophrenic ex-husband
- A close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer some months ago and as she underwent treatment, her oldest daughter was admitted to the same hospital for an emergency brain surgery
So, our story is not special. It is part of normal.
Suffering is Not the Time for Heroics
I realized my helplessness during a total meltdown when I just couldn’t face another invasive procedure. That was the point when it became utterly clear that I had absolutely no control over anything.
My usual fallback options are pride and arrogance. But that doesn’t work when you are sobbing like a two-year old in front of a nurse and your wife. All that I had left in me was to say “oh God” and really, that’s all that is to be done. He took over and it became clear to me what Paul referred to when he wrote: “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Suffering Is Not About You – It Is About Christ
In reality, God had taken over much earlier than that. He had always been present and your prayers have and had moved the heavens. To confirm this, all I needed to do was to go back to my diary (yes, it’s a diary, even though Matt wants us guys to call it a journal).
We received the news about my diagnosis right here, while sitting in church the Sunday of Memorial Day. We were not alone in this dark hour. God had provided a community to catch us falling. Right from the start Christ provided so that were not on our own. All around the world the news of my diagnosis brought many of our friends to their knees-most of them unbelievers, some hadn’t prayed for 30 years, others had never gone to church in decades. Christ is and was on the move—seeking the lost. Their and your prayers moved Heaven and God did God sized things:
- Sabia hasn’t worked for 7 months and received full salary and benefits.
- My colleagues sent a card every day for months and allowed me to work completely at my pace and even when I couldn’t, I still got paid
- I had 4 100 percent donors, a true miracle
- I was assigned the best transplant doctor in the country
- God’s timing was such that I was home and well for my kids’ birthdays-Sophia’s tenth and Leon’s 16th
- You, our church family have held our hand in prayer and with every practical matter you can imagine, from shuttling kids to making meals to picking up groceries.
- Our neighborhood found purpose and came together in care for us, mowing the lawn, collecting the leaves and driving our kids—complete strangers showed up at our door to help.
- My 3D group friends who decided to meet in my hospital room
- Churches from the Silver Spring area and beyond all the way to London, Nepal, Singapore, Germany and God knows where prayed and fasted; there must have been hundreds of people praying for us who will never know us
- Relationships were built e.g. I have become close friends with one of Sabia’s colleagues who sent daily emails and called; by the way I have yet to meet him in person
We had no alternative to sharing about our hope because even if it looked like we had things together this wasn’t us. This is how God showed us undeserved mercy and the truth of his promises. “Be anxious for nothing but in everything through prayer, supplication and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace beyond all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ”.
None of it was our own strength. It was in our weakness that God’s power could be perfect because we had nothing to offer, only our fears, anxieties and helplessness. To help us, God drew on the body. Every time you prayed you worshiped because even though you may secretly have had doubts, you still brought it all before God and every minute you spent with God your relationship to him changed.
This isn’t about our suffering. This is all about Christ who wants to spend time with us. He wants to be involved, he wants to reveal his love and his care for us so that we can go out and do the same. In that sense, our suffering was also about you, the body, the people who helped us and aren’t believers yet.
That also means that as we pray that my healing is already complete, the relationships don’t end here. Not our relationship to the body, to new people we met and hopefully new relationships that formed here in the body. It was merely the beginning.