Patient in Affliction
How my cancer journey teaches me to live the truth of these words.
By Daniel Nicewonger
When adversity or pain comes our way, most of us do whatever it takes to avoid it. The idea of remaining “patient in affliction” would typically not be our first response.
The phrase “patient in affliction” comes from the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
Paul’s challenge for us to be “patient in affliction” runs counter to how my spirit has experienced the past six years of my cancer journey.
I want to be healed, healed today. I am tired of what feels like endless doctor appointments and continual treatment cycles. Yet Paul, one familiar with suffering, calls me to be patient in affliction. Why?
A witness of hope
I believe it is because Paul can give witness to the true source of hope and peace, as only one who has experienced affliction can. Time and again, he has experienced grace during his struggles.
An energy that sustains him when he feels as if he has nothing left. Someone to lift his spirits when at his lowest. A peace that overcomes all the anxiety. Hope for the future when it feels as if all is lost.
Those who remain “patient in affliction” experience a side of God that much of the world misses as they flee the slightest obstacle or difficulty.
Only those who have remained “patient in affliction” can bear witness to how the Spirit met them, sustained them, and renewed them.
My fifth round of systemic chemotherapy began in July 2022.
I was active and energetic in the weeks before starting this round. Hoping to sail through these twelve cycles with ease, I soon faced a very different reality.
My body reacted to the chemo in what is, for me, rather severe ways. The nauseous was almost crippling and it was impossible to relax. The usual drugs did not take the edge off and soon I had GI issues from both ends of my body. Monday was a rough day.
Tuesday was more of the same.
I was struggling—not just physically, but also emotionally.
Where my mind went
Sitting at my desk, I wondered if I had fought this fight long enough.
I understand this is a challenging thought, but it was where my mind was.
I found myself in one of those moments when all I could do was focus on my pain and discomfort. Every fiber of my being wanted it gone.
Looking for a distraction, I opened my email and found Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, “Stay Where the Pain Is.”
My Gut Reaction to the title? I don’t need to read this crap. I want the pain to be gone—to get as far away from it as possible.
Overcoming my self-focus, I opened the meditation and read it. Rohr’s words spoke to my heart.
Father Richard challenged me to stay where the pain was.
It sounded eerily reminiscent of Paul’s encouragement to be patient in affliction. To sit with the pain. Own it. Allow my pain to heal and transform me.
Yet this idea is foreign to life in our culture.
Walk into any drug store, Walmart, or grocery store, and you find aisles upon aisles dedicated to alleviating pain. The slightest hint of pain or discomfort conditions us to do everything within our power to make it disappear.
Yet, we can experience renewal, rebirth, transformation, and resurrection while going through seasons of struggle and pain.
After reading Rohr’s meditation a couple of times, I went to sit on my porch and later made my way to my prayer bench.
Later in the day, I called an old friend. We talked about past lives and what may be in the future.
Slowly I felt the sting of pain subside, and the hope of what might be become clearer.
Moments later, I received a message from another friend sharing how God was using my book, The Journey Continues (see the link at the end of the article) to speak life into the pain of another’s life.
Renewal, rebirth, transformation, and resurrection can all be ours if we are willing to stay where the pain is. It is even more likely if we are willing to share our pain with others.
The deeper invitation
My (our) pain is an opportunity to connect with the person of Jesus.
For some, this may sound strange, but hear me out. Jesus endured incredible pain on his way to the cross. Pain he could have avoided with one simple prayer or command.
Jesus chose to sit with the pain so you and I can experience a restored relationship with God.
When I allow myself to sit in the pain, it is an opportunity to connect with the fullness of the person of Jesus and identify with his suffering.
We can also experience God’s comforting presence, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.
Just as Jesus’ pain was transformed, redeemed, and restored into new life on Easter morning; God can restore my pain into something healing and transformative.
And he can do it for you, too.
The pain is still present. My body’s reaction to chemo has not changed.
What has changed is my spirit and my attitude.
There is no need to flee the pain. While I don’t love pain, I eagerly await how the Spirit will use this season to breathe renewal, rebirth, transformation, and resurrection into my life and world.
Questions to ponder
Paul’s challenge to be “patient in affliction” runs counter to most of what we know of this world. Yet time and again, I witness the Spirit do amazing things when it felt as if “all was lost.”
Here are a few questions for you to ponder:
- Can you name a time when the Spirit met you in the midst of your pain?
- Is there a time you shared your pain with someone else, and they found encouragement in your story?
- What does it look like for you to “sit with your pain?”
- How has remaining “patient in affliction” allowed you to experience healing and transformation?
If you are struggling to answer these questions on your own, find a trusted friend or pastor to talk with. Share your responses to the questions and ask them to help you discern where the Spirit is moving in your life.
May God give you eyes, ears, a heart, and an open mind to see the transformation and renewal happening inside and around you.
May you find hope as you live the truth of Paul’s words to be patient in affliction.
Note: We are not doctors and we cannot answer your medical questions. However, we welcome your questions about finding hope and knowing God.