~by Julia Roller
The other day I heard a young girl say that Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” was her life verse.
It’s a beautiful and meaningful verse, and I was smiling to myself about her choice until I heard her explain why she chose it—because it meant that only good things happened to people who believe in God. Dismay swept over me. I wanted to run over to her, pull her aside, and tell her that she was wrong, that that’s not at all what that verse means.
I did not pull her aside. (I didn’t want to terrify her.) And in her defense, she may have misspoke or I may have misheard. But the truth is that many people, many adults, do have this mistaken understanding, whether they’re conscious of it or not. And it’s a dangerous notion. If we believe that only good things happen to people who believe in God, then what does it mean if something bad happens to us or someone we love? What place do we have in God’s family then?
I felt so passionate about this that I started telling my seven-year-old all about it at dinner last night. His response? Eyes wide, he agreed that bad things happened to him all the time!
We all laughed with him, but then I tried to explain to him the way I view the verse, that it actually means something so much better—not that bad things won’t happen to us, but that we can trust in the overall good of our Maker and our Maker’s plan. That when we follow God we can be confident that the framework of our lives is firmly situated in good.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer a year and a half ago, 39 weeks pregnant with my third child, I didn’t want to think this verse had any relevance for me. I didn’t believe that any good could come out of something so horrible and unexpected. I was shocked and angry and incredibly frightened.
But as some time passed, and I learned more about what exactly was happening to me and what I could expect, I could see clearly that good had come even from that terrible news.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, I became so grateful for all that I did have, including my healthy baby. I was immensely grateful to learn that my cancer was early stage and highly treatable. I was newly appreciative of my family and every minute I had with them, even the ones I spent cleaning up after them. Although after my first two pregnancies, I didn’t have many positive thoughts about my post-baby body, this time around I was thankful for it, and the fact that it was mostly healthy and made it through chemotherapy and radiation pretty well. I was even ridiculously grateful for my hair, which I was able to (mostly) keep on my head by wearing cold caps during my chemo treatments.
Most significantly, I could see that as a result of my breast cancer, I and my whole family were embraced and cared for by our church and community. Primarily because of them, I came through the experience strengthened rather than weakened.
I don’t believe God gave me cancer, nor am I saying I’m grateful to have had it or even that cancer was God’s plan for me, but I can see the good that came out of something that at first seemed so dark. Even in cancer, I am called according to God’s purpose. I can choose to participate in loving God, in helping to make something good out of something awful.
For me this involves reaching out to others who are newly diagnosed or are going through treatment to offer them the support and encouragement I was offered, enjoying the beauty of the life God has given me while remembering its finitude, and not forgetting the most important thing about me: that I was created by and am loved by God, a truth nothing, certainly not cancer, can change.