Anne Graham Lotz: How my struggle with cancer taught me to listen to God
The Holy Spirit whispered to me from His Word throughout my cancer journey. I do not know how I could have possibly managed all that was involved following the diagnosis without His gentle whispers of comfort, encouragement, and guidance. Several situations stand out.
Following my surgery and before my first chemo treatment, I met with a pharmacist who listed the side effects I would experience: hair loss, mouth sores, flu-like body aches, bone pain, metallic taste, appetite loss, fingernail loss. At that point it was hard to keep listening. I was overwhelmed with the thought of what lay ahead. I went straight from my meeting with her to the heart-and-vascular surgeon for the insertion of a semipermanent port in my chest. I felt as if I was being sucked into a black whirlpool over which I had no control and from which there was no escape.
The next morning, my devotional reading was from Job 42:12: “The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.” The thought was that through Job’s suffering and grief, he had come to his heritage. Peace flooded over me as the Spirit seemed to indicate that my cancer experience was not a whirlpool. It was a journey with a purpose. God would use it to lead me to my heritage — where He wanted me to be.
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As I went from appointment to appointment — meeting with doctors, pharmacists, lab technicians, the heart-and-vascular surgeon, enduring chemo treatments, radiation, and endless waiting rooms for all the above — once again, the Spirit gave me a sense of purpose when He whispered these words from Zechariah: "'I will strengthen [Anne] in the Lord, and [she] shall walk up and down in His name,' says the Lord.” I seemed to walk all over the big hospital. Up and down escalators. To elevators. Between parking garages and floors and hospital wings.
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But the purpose came through, that as I walked, I would do so in His name. Again and again, I was stopped by other patients or visitors who recognized me, people who said they were praying for me or who asked me to pray for them.
I had multiple opportunities to share the gospel and to pray with nurses, technicians, doctors, and many others who treated me. His whisper changed my attitude from that of being a cancer victim to being on a mission as His ambassador.
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As I prayed with my two daughters following my fifth chemo treatment, God seemed to indicate He had healed me. I pondered in my heart what I believed He had said. My numbers from my blood draw before the sixth treatment were all remarkably good.
After my sixth treatment, I began questioning whether or not I should continue chemo. The weakness and weariness were debilitating. The side effects were daunting. I did not want to continue treatments if they were unnecessary. So one morning, I prayed specifically, asking God to confirm from His Word whether or not I was to continue chemotherapy treatments.
Two hours later, Rachel-Ruth came to sit with me. She shared some of her insights from 2 Kings 5 — that she was to teach her Bible class that week. She related the story of the Syrian general Naaman who had leprosy. A little Israelite slave girl told Naaman of Elisha, a man of God, who could heal him. When Naaman sought Elisha, he was told, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan ... and you will be cleansed.”
Naaman resisted, saying that Syria had better rivers than the Jordan. He did not want to submit himself to the “side effects” of muck and mud. But at his servant’s urging, Naaman did dip in the Jordan. When he came up the seventh time, he was healed! The seventh time!
I could hear the clear whisper of the Spirit answering my prayer, confirming that I was to continue chemo. My next and last treatment would be my seventh time! So as much as I resisted the "muck and mud," in obedience to God’s leading, I committed to complete the seventh infusion.
There have been times when the Spirit has seemed to give me a promise that doesn’t come to pass. Whenever that has happened, my faith has been challenged.
I go back to reexamine the promise and pray over it. Did I misread it? Did I read into it? Was it a promise God was truly giving me or one I had just named and claimed?
Recently I had a crisis of faith triggered by a promise I thought God had clearly given me but was proven over time to be unfulfilled. I was devastated. I felt empty, foolish, and, oh, so spiritually naive.
Then the Spirit whispered to me, "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you." And I knew His promise would be fulfilled, just not according to my time. My faith rebounded as I chose to trust His way and His time.
The previous examples are just a few of the Spirit’s whispers to my heart. Would I have made the same decisions without what He had said? Would I have had the same perseverance, courage, comfort, and direction if I had not read my Bible, listening for His voice?
I don’t think so.
Yes, I would have survived. But like many others, I would have been just guessing my way through life, afraid I would take a wrong turn and very probably doing so. Instead, the Spirit’s whispers have enabled me to live with energetic confidence, making very few costly mistakes.
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Once again, I’m reminded of my mother’s advice and her example. Read your Bible. Every day. Study it. Learn to love it. Live by it.
I urge you to take her wise counsel, then follow my father’s example and think about what you are reading. Listen for the whisper of the Spirit, who speaks through the pages of the Word that He Himself has inspired and through the words on the pages, which are God-breathed.
This op-ed is excerpted from Anne's new book, "Jesus in Me: Experiencing the Holy Spirit as a Constant Companion." Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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