Experience has a way of teaching us some of life’s most valuable lessons, while pain and heartache add the exclamation point for emphasis.
This past year certainly held some highlights for me: going on tour with Redemption Press to the Women of Joy conferences, signing a new book contract and writing the book, and winning the Christian Literary Readers Choice Award for “The Hope Prevails Bible Study”.
Conversely, while those were highlights of the year, this year also held several low points: a son’s boating accident and subsequent surgery, changing career direction, and receiving a cancer diagnosis for starters.
I appreciate the reason behind making New Year’s resolutions, and I’m an advocate of goal setting and improving ourselves while making progress in our areas of weakness. Yet I think we would be remiss if we didn’t slow down and take an assessment of the lessons learned over the past year’s experiences.
Lesson 1: God’s plans are good
In the early fall, I turned my manuscript for my next book in to the publisher. Not a day later, I began wondering “What project should I undertake now?” Yet I sensed the Lord insisting that the next season needed to be a season of rest, and that was confirmed in multiple ways and through multiple people. I didn’t understand it—I wondered what could be better than serving the Lord doing kingdom work? Yet within a month after I felt the Lord’s direction to rest, I received a cancer diagnosis and would need a clear schedule to rest and recover. Sometimes we don’t understand the Lord’s plans, but we can always trust that His plans for us are good and are to prosper us and never harm us.
Lesson 2: Valuing a change in perspective
This year presented many opportunities, not the least of which was a cancer journey, when I wasn’t sure what to do or how I could do something. As I looked around me, at my children, at my staff, at my patients, and even my friends, their situations confirmed I wasn’t alone in that. Life continually presents opportunities to grow, change, and test our perceived limits. Through it, I learned there is value in exchanging the thought “I don’t know how I can do that” for “Lord, I can’t wait to see how you handle this!” Scripture says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30). So rather than worry or fret, let’s watch and learn from Him.
Lesson 3: We comfort others with the same comfort God gives us
Shortly after I received a cancer diagnosis, I received a text from a friend undergoing medical tests, asking for prayer. Very soon thereafter, she too was given a cancer diagnosis. Not only was I currently addressing cancer in my own life, but my husband was a three-time cancer survivor. We could lend wisdom, knowledge, and hope in a dark situation. Soon thereafter, we learned of others who were also walking the cancer journey, and it became clear to us that God would use our most painful experiences to allow us to minister and comfort others with the same comfort He had given to us.
Lesson 4: Being present with family and friends is what truly matters
When I heard the words, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have cancer” thoughts raced through my mind faster than traffic driving the autobahn. I first sat stunned and in shock, unable to even schedule my next medical appointment for lack of focus. My thoughts jumped from “This can’t be…they must have the wrong patient” to “I don’t have time for this, I have to prepare for Christmas.” Somehow times like this remind you of what’s really important. More than ever before, all I really wanted for Christmas was to be fully present with and in my family’s lives, rather than a tree full of presents, for that was what truly mattered.
Lessons 5: Challenging times cause our trust to blossom
It took a little while to settle into a season of rest. I’m generally a do-er, a planner, and an achiever, so rest didn’t come naturally to me. Yet during a time when rest was crucial, I was grateful for the Lord’s instruction and provision of the time to do so. Many asked what my future plans were, and while it felt awkward, I repeatedly answered, “I don’t know. God hasn’t told me yet.” I found that it’s one thing to say we trust God when things are easy, but challenging times are fertile soil for our trust to really blossom.
Lesson 6: Rest is crucial for warfare
Furthermore, I used to think rest was a luxury, but then I learned it’s crucial for warfare.
Lesson 7: God will fulfill His promises
The enemy tempts us with worry, fear, and anxiety, but God has given us His peace if we will but receive it. Immediately upon hearing the cancer diagnosis, I realized I had a choice to make: either I could cave to worry, fear, and anxiety, or I could remember that God has always been faithful so I had no reason to doubt Him then, allowing me to walk that new journey in peace. Sometimes God tests us, and sometimes the enemy afflicts us, but either case is an opportunity to rely on God’s truth and watch Him fulfill His promises.
Lesson 8: Don’t compare our pain to others
Shortly after I had surgery, we had learned of several others who had also been diagnosed with cancer. When others asked me how I was, I often minimized my pain saying, “But I really can’t complain because I know others who have it so much worse.” Yet, I was drawn to Scriptures that suggested we don’t need to compare our pain to others’ and minimize our own experience because Jesus never compared one person’s pain, illness, or infirmity to another’s. He never denied someone His love and healing touch because someone else was in worse condition. In fact, He took the time to minister to people where He was, on His way to minister to others who were dying.
Lesson 9: Prayers of others give us strength
I endured many a painful and sleepless night following surgery and treatment. There were times when I cried so hard, all I could pray was either “Help…” or “Jesus.” But God never left me there. At some point, enough relief would come and I could rally before the next wave hit. Invariably, the next day someone (or multiple people) would contact me and let me know that God had them praying for me in the middle of the night. The prayers of others gave me strength when I had none, and were a tangible example of the Scriptural promise that when we are weak, He is strong.
Lesson 10: Christ died so we can live
While the pain I endured after surgery to remove the cancer and through subsequent treatment cannot possibly compare in magnitude, it nonetheless gave me a much greater appreciation for the pain and suffering my Savior endured on my behalf! As I sat receiving treatment before Christmas, I truly wanted to be anywhere but there. Until I realized that Christ was born on Christmas so that one day He would die so that I could live. That turned my grumbling heart into a grateful one.
As we look to the new year with anticipation and expectation, I pray you will also take the time to reflect on what the past year’s experiences have taught you. Those are often expensive, hard-fought lessons that deserve consideration.
May you experience a blessed and fruitful new year as you seek to do what He would have you do and learn what He would have you learn.
I’d love to hear some of the things you’ve learned over the past year, in the comments below.
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Depression doesn’t have to become a permanent part of life.
There is hope.
Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.
“There are many fine, worthy, and insightful books written about depression but in my view, Dr. Bengtson’s trumps them all. Our first step of making it to the other side of the valley of depression may well be falling into the competent and compassionately written words of this God-honoring book: Hope Prevails.” ~ Marilyn Meberg, Speaker, Women of Faith
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