John Piper is well known for exhorting Christians not to waste our lives. When he was fighting cancer, he wrote something even more eye-opening: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dont-waste-your-cancer).
I do not have cancer, for which I am thankful. I have a horrific pregnancy. This article is not meant as a diminishment of the gravity and agony of cancer, but rather as a greater-to-lesser argument: if this is true of something as serious as cancer, it is certainly true of something painful but redemptive like pregnancy. Even if my trial isn’t deadly, it is equally important to think about what God is doing through it.
Facing pregnancy sickness that makes me despair, here is my adaptation of Piper’s points:
1. You will waste your sickness if you do not believe God designed it for you.
This is my fifth pregnancy, and they get worse every time. I have half-jokingly prayed/begged for God to let me learn whatever lesson I’m supposed to learn already so I can move on. I know that’s not how God works: he’s not zapping me like a rat in a maze to condition me into learning something. But after I prayed this, I thought about it more seriously. What can I learn from this time? Have I learned anything in the other pregnancies? I joked with a friend that I hate this lesson, whatever it is, and if I’m lucky I can escape from this sickness without learning a darn thing. But what’s the point of running from God? God is sovereign, and he has indeed designed pregnancy to go like this for me. Which leads me to…
2. You will waste your sickness if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
What a doozy. How can I believe this horror is a gift? What truth do I know from Scripture that shows me God is gifting me rather than cursing me? If when I was still his enemy, he gave up his only Son for me, how will he not together with him give me all good things? Those good things don’t always look good to my limited vision, but as my best friend always says, God’s view of things isn’t just another alternative to ours: it’s Reality. The blessing of the children within me is obvious. But even the sickness itself must be a gift. Through this sickness, God is forming something in me, in my husband, in my children, and in my friends, that could not be formed otherwise. I must trust that it is indeed beautiful and worthwhile. In fact, I must embrace it. It would be senseless to waste this unique chance to be made more like Christ, merely to avoid submitting to God’s wisdom that contradicts my comfort.
3. You will waste your sickness if you seek comfort from trimester milestones rather than God.
I’m 14 weeks pregnant. Theoretically, I should feel better soon. According to the pregnancy websites, it’s practically my inalienable right to feel better soon. But God doesn’t operate based on neat timelines. Most likely, I will feel better soon, at the very least by the time I give birth. But my comfort, my hope, isn’t in statistical predictions of relief. It’s in the God who gives me breath every day, and has given me LIFE in Jesus Christ.
4. You will waste your sickness if you spend too much time reading about the problem and not enough time reading about God.
There’s only so much that can be done about my situation; instead of distracting myself to numbness (which seems like a good tactic and indeed, sometimes it’s all I can manage), I want to strive to use this bedridden time to know God, my truest love, more deeply. What could be a more worthwhile investment of my sick time?
5. You will waste your sickness if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepening your relationships.
You will be blessed and strengthened when you receive love from others, and when you give it. You are helpless in a big way. Pride and self-sufficiency make no sense here. Depend on others and give them the chance to love you well; it will be good for their hearts too. But you are not the only suffering one. Pouring into others, even in the midst of your pain, brightens your view. Even as I’ve been bedridden and miserable, my happiest moments have probably been while tending to my very sick 4-year-old, curled up on my lap for hours that turned into days. We struggled through a bad virus together, and when I had to push aside my own needs to care for him, I literally felt fewer of my symptoms.
6. You will waste your sickness if you lose hope.
Whatever is the end of this trial, God is in control and working it to his glory. It is not wasted and it cannot destroy the most important things.
7. You will waste your sickness if you treat sin as casually as before.
How can this present sickness and helplessness, in which there is no pleasure in anything earthly, help me to see the futility and worthlessness of sin? Pain strips away pretense. You can’t effectively hide behind a façade when you can barely stand up on your own. The lies that lead us to grab after sin look faded and insipid when none of them bring even the hint of pleasure. The helplessness is a gift too: pride cannot survive easily in someone who needs help for everything. Unforgiveness must go when you realize how fragile you are and needy of others.
8. You will waste your sickness if you fail to use it as a means to witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
In a world where babies are disposable and children are only welcome if they don’t interfere with our well planned-out life, choosing to endure suffering for the sake of your little ones is a big message. I do not serve myself. I serve God. His plan is to create these little babies and bring them forth into the world for us to raise. I bow to God and his purposes, above mine, because he is the greatest treasure there is, far greater than a dress size or a good night’s sleep or hobby-filled evenings. What’s more, as my children and the world see me trusting in the Lord despite my wretchedness, it shows that Christ is true, worth suffering for.