Four Reasons We Don’t Feel Comfort from God, published in July 2015, remains my most popular post. Nearly every day that post will get several visits. I’m not sure why. I am an obscure blogger buried in the internet. Perhaps the title bubbles up near the top when someone Googles ‘comfort from God.’ I wish I could generate this popularity for my other posts so advertisers for cancer yoga pants and pink ribbon nightshirts would flock to me. But seriously, I suspect tens of thousands of people trawl (not troll) through the web every day, desperately looking for some comfort, some solace from God. I have a heart for these people. On occasion, I am one of them.
As I lurch from one cancer therapy to the next, struggle against one quality-of-life-diminishing side-effect after another, and, consequently, am painfully reminded of my mortality daily…….I MARVEL at the ways God gives me comfort. I keep a running list in my head of how he meets me more than halfway. In thinking about these comforts, which are often subtle, I can see why if I am not alert, I may miss them.
- I miss the comfort because it does not come according to my timetable.
- I miss the comfort from God because it comes through means I take for granted.
- I miss the comfort because I do not realize my suffering is an opportunity to serve others. (The service is the comfort.)
- I miss the comfort because I am just too fatigued or lazy to draw on the resources of the church family.
God’s comfort is not according to my timetable
Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer since 2018, there is not a visit to my oncologist since then that I don’t feel like the sword of Damocles hangs over me, ready to drop. In the run up to the appointment, I am always praying for encouraging news about the level of tumor markers or the results of scans. And then I pray that I would feel God’s presence and that I would have courage to face what is in store as I wait for news. I am follower of Christ, so I know that my relationship with him comes alongside suffering and comfort. None of us are exempt from this reality but when I suffer, I want that comfort on my timetable, not God’s, for that usually requires waiting. I’m tempted to question God’s love because the waiting feels like an answer: “no comfort for you today and maybe never.”
Antidote: In such times I resort to writing. It is therapeutic to get my complaints and worries down on paper. This is a practice that I encouraged my clients to do with excellent results. The benefits of writing down thoughts, feelings, experiences, grievances have been researched and validated repeatedly. There are biblical precedents for this as well. The authors of Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations aired their complaints to God. Read Psalms 42 and 43 for a blueprint on how to record our grievances. And note the end of these Psalms. End our complaints in remembrance of God’s faithfulness in the past and therefore a hope for the future. I often do this as an act of faith, even though I don’t always “feel” it.
God’s comfort comes through means I take for granted so it is not recognized as his comfort.
Many times, I ignore the steady stream of God’s comfort coming my way. I’m looking instead for a spectacular deliverance that takes away all the disappointments, dread, and angst that cancer brings.
“God! Where is your comfort?”, I ask as tears well up upon hearing not so encouraging medical news. Then, upon later reflection, I realize that God’s comfort is always present. David, my husband is always with me, bearing with me the emotional toll of this cancer – a comfort that I assumed as insignificant compared to some dramatic show of comfort from God that would prove he cared about me. I am the recipient of comfort that comes by way of family, friends, church community, and good medical care. It is not good to ignore these obvious God-comfort sources just because they lack a spontaneous, spectacular, supernatural intervention.
Question: What brings you comfort? Who brings you comfort? Can you tie these comforts back to God? If so, then practice the habit of thanking God out loud, as well as thanking those who are God’s ambassadors of comfort to you. Do both often. It will become a habit which will prepare you emotionally and spiritually for when the really hard times come. You will be blessed and comforted in the process.
God’s comfort can come through my comfort of others
2 Corinthians 1:4
“He comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Bible makes it clear that our suffering can act as a refining fire for developing character in us as well as producing benefits for others. Our suffering and subsequent comfort from God gives us street cred in helping those who are suffering likewise.
I am touched when people reach out to me for encouragement and comfort. Many times, these people have a less severe cancer diagnosis and prognosis than I have but cancer is cancer and scares the heck out of anyone regardless of the severity.
For nearly 15 years I spent most of every winter working in the Middle East; teaching and coaching women in the practice of good mental health. These Arab women had very hard lives; harder than I could imagine. However, the moment I disclosed my cancer diagnosis (stage 3 back then) I could sense that my audience was touched and had warmed up to me. It was as if this ‘weathy’ American woman was not so privileged after all. On some level I was included into the fellowship of suffering women. The playing field was leveled, and they expressed encouragement by what I taught. I was blessed by playing a part in their comfort.
Helping others releases God’s comfort not just for others but for us as well. Helping others triggers the release of “feel good” hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine which gives a mood boost.
‘Dragging myself’ to church brings comfort
The kindness and love of the church family brings tremendous comfort. This comfort is ordained by God. If we are not a part of a church community we miss out. Being amongst the fellowship of believers in general, and being prayed for in particular, is one of this life’s spiritual, emotional, and physical means of receiving God’s comfort.
Metastatic cancer treatments offer no cure but rather cancer management with the latest targeted drugs and procedures to prolong life as long as possible. The disease as well as the side effects of treatments can feel endless. “Whack a mole” is what my husband has coined it. One rough symptom is dealt with and right behind it comes another. I’m tired, physically. More seriously, I feel like I am tiring out my church family with frequent prayer requests to address the latest physical trial. I am tempted to stifle the prayer requests, ignore my church community, and rely on ministrations of the medical community to see me through till the end.
This past Sunday and I considered not going to church sporting my newest symptom, Bell’s Palsy. My husband was delivering the sermon, so I ended up going to support him. By the end of the service, I was drawn
compelled to ask for prayer by from a couple of people. Instead, eight or nine people gathered around me, laid hands on me, and prayed gently and compassionately. A flood gate of tears was opened but by the end I marched to my car with a lighter step than I had had for a while.
The elephant in this blog post
What happens when comfort gives way to death which we know happens a lot with cancer? Again, depending on your confidence in the reality of the risen Christ, there is yet an ultimate comfort. It’s a tough one to internalize but nonetheless it is expressed too many times in the New Testament to be ignored and its crucial to living faithfully in Christ during this life. This life is not all there is. We must think of and dwell on this. But be warned! if you think or talk too much of eternal life or heaven or resurrection you will be dismissed as a flake or someone who has their heads in the clouds. Don’t be dissuaded. Contemplating the reality of heaven is a wellspring of hope for a future where all things are made just, good, and beautiful. It is here that you will find the comfort you need to live courageously and generously. For relentless sufferers, death in Christ is the best comfort of all! God’s comfort never, never, never lets us down. It is only in forward thinking that I ultimately find comfort. There is sufficient comfort in this life to give us joy within sorrow and hope within disappointment. But eternal life is where “every tear will be wiped away”, not before. For now, we fight the good fight of faith.