“When Our Lord gives us a taste of his Cross through suffering and sickness, we should see ourselves as his favored children.”
What? Did that say what I thought it said?
Fr. Francis Fernandez makes this bold claim in a daily meditation I found in his book In Conversation with God. This statement almost made me laugh out loud the first time I read it and I had breast cancer and was going through a divorce. How could God possibly be favoring me by allowing me to suffer from the loss of my marriage and be sick with cancer at the same time? It almost seemed the exact opposite — as if I was being punished. But eventually I came to know the truth. God had favored me and my suffering and sickness had been good for me.
Getting a cancer diagnosis at the age of 50 awakened me to my own mortality. The fact was if I did not have surgery, receive chemotherapy and radiation, I would die. I had Stage 2 cancer that had progressed into my lymph nodes. I was powerless and nothing I could do would change my future. I thought of death often and I even purchased my cemetery plot. When I thought of death, I knew I wanted to go to heaven. This changed the way I lived and how I spent my time. It emptied my soul of the trash that had collected.
This disease radically changed my prayer life. I wanted to live. My daughters were 11 and 15 when I was diagnosed. I was not ready to leave them. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain healing. I had seen that with my friend Elaine. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 months before me and had died. But I had an intense desire to persevere in prayer even if I was going to die. With that came a steadfast life of prayer that continues to this day. I begin each day in prayer and spend at least 30 minutes in silence with Our Lord.
More than wanting to live for my two daughters was my desire to live for the sake of my father. He had lost his wife, my mother, and buried her 3 months before I was diagnosed. I witnessed his profound grief and could not imagine if he then lost his only daughter. These facts kept swirling in my mind and I became determined to be strong and fight.
Suffering and being physically sick in this way emptied my soul of unhealthy desires. My identity had been wrapped up in my husband, my children, my home, and my things. Cancer stripped me of that and I realized my identity was only found in my life with Christ. At the end of the day, when I did die, my husband would not be with me and neither would my home or my stuff. Ultimately, I realized my relationship with Christ was my first priority. This was a grace.
Two weeks before my cancer diagnosis, my husband revealed to me that he was no longer in love with me. He was in love with another woman and wanted to marry her. Thirty-six hours later, he had moved out of our home. There I was, alone with breast cancer, no husband and no mother to console me. Initially, I felt betrayed both by God and by my husband. I questioned my faith. This betrayal hurt me interiorly in my heart and in my soul. I felt I could endure the physical pain of a double mastectomy and it would not compare to the emotional pain of betrayal in my marriage.
Being betrayed this way led me to searching for someone who had known betrayal and survived — maybe even grown through the process. I wanted desperately to find this common bond with someone so we could talk. Through prayer, I was led to that person. It was Jesus! Who in all the world knew betrayal better than Jesus? Hebrews 2:10 told me that Jesus was “made perfect through suffering.”
Now, I will never say I was “made perfect” through my suffering, but I was changed! I became more compassionate, more loving, and more thoughtful. I was less judgmental. During the midst of the pain, I could not see this happening so I just had to trust God. In prayer, I would sense Jesus asking me to “follow him.” My prayer life became my top priority and through that Jesus became more real to me. He became my best friend.
I sometimes say God “stripped” me of everything so He could rebuild me in better form. I lost my mother, my marriage, my home, my hair and my breasts all within a season of my life. I spent hours thinking about Jesus being stripped and hanging on the cross and how he must have felt. Judas had betrayed him. In time, I would betray him. One of my favorite verses from the Bible became “My grace is sufficient for you.”
So now, four years later, my vision is more clear on what happened. A priest-friend told me that it was like I was God’s “favorite daughter.” When I first heard those words, I said, “yea, right!” But now I know them to be true. Suffering showed me that God’s power was made perfect in my weakness. Had I not suffered, I would not have turned to Christ to seek his mercy and love. I would not depend on him like I do today. I would still be relying on the world and my stuff to bring me happiness. I do feel favored because I know Christ is the only path to my true peace and happiness.