How can the thing that hurts us most become the thing that heals us? Michele Cushatt explains.
The Comfort of Connection
By Michele Cushatt
The email landed in my inbox a few days ago. From someone I’ve never met—let’s call him Mark—I read a story eerily similar to my own. He is a few years older than me, married to Margaret, living in Denver. A couple of years ago, he learned he had squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue, and recently it came back a second time, requiring surgery to remove half of his tongue. Now he’s working with a speech therapist to learn how to eat and drink and swallow again. And next week he’ll meet with the radiation oncology team to determine next steps.
He’s afraid, justifiably so. That’s why he reached out. At the end of his email, he asked me a question only someone with a similar story could answer: “Is there any advice, words of wisdom, anything you can pass along that you think might benefit me in this stage of my journey?”
With every word of his email, the memories of my own cancer journey came back in full focus, the images more acute and real than they’d been moments before. I could feel echoes of my suffering and waves of the old, familiar fear. Although time has passed, the healing continues, physically and emotionally. I am not so far removed that I have forgotten. I doubt I’ll ever forget.
But did I have any words of wisdom? Wisdom implies expertise. And although I am a survivor, I’m not sure we ever become experts at suffering.
“I’m not sure I have any words of wisdom or advice,” I replied. “My faith in Jesus and belief in His unwavering presence with me carried me through. Many days, I didn’t feel His nearness and wondered if He’d abandoned me in my suffering. So I kept a journal. Every day, I wrote the day’s date at the top of a single page, and throughout the day I looked for evidence of His goodness and kindness and presence and wrote it down. Some pages were more empty than others. But I now have that journal right here in my office, and I go back and remind myself of God’s faithfulness, even through the darkest chapter of my life. He was even more present than I realized.
“He is with you too, Mark. This morning I prayed for you and Margaret, for your strength, your quick and total healing, for your peace and courage through the process. And I prayed for God to make it plain to you that He is with you, even here.
“Thank you for allowing me to sit with you in this season, my friend. This too is evidence of His kindness. Because by sharing this space with you, He is redeeming some of my own losses. He will do the same for you.”
And with those last words, I once again recognized God’s unparalleled mechanism of redemption: God uses the things we still mourn to deliver the deepest comfort. Not only to someone else but also to us.
It’s paradoxical, nonsensical. How could the one thing that has most devastated me become the very thing that heals me? And yet this is exactly what happens. Each time I dare to reach out from the place of my grief to comfort someone else in their own, I find the weight of my suffering lessened. Not all at once, and not forever. But a little at a time until I can once again live.
This is the real miracle.
Paul understood this mystery, this miracle of comfort that comes in the giving of it away: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Cor. 1:5–7).
Yes, our sufferings are abundant, at times beyond our capacity to bear. Glory, ours is a God of abundant comfort. But just as an inhalation must be followed by an exhalation, comfort received is only fully realized when comfort is shared.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). With that assurance like breath in our lungs, let us likewise breathe comfort on those who are crying out for it. Comfort starts with Him, but it’s multiplied with me and you.
As an experienced communicator, Michele Cushatt speaks internationally to a wide variety of audiences and has published three previous books, Undone, Relentless, and I Am. Her most recent book is A Faith That Will Not Fail. A three-time head and neck cancer survivor and parent of “children from hard places,” Michele is a (reluctant) expert on trauma, pain, and the deep human need for authentic connection and enduring faith. She and her husband, Troy, share a blended family of six children, including biological children, stepchildren, and foster-adopt children. They live on eight acres outside of Denver, Colorado. For more information, visit www.MicheleCushatt.com.