Dispatches

The Divine Recycler

"The diagnosis: breast cancer. There I was facing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation."

I love music and occasionally am asked to sing solos in worship settings. For some time now, my go-to choice has been the song “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves. It’s my favorite because of a line that especially resonates with me: “I can’t remember a trial or a pain He did not recycle to bring me gain.”

It’s an intriguing thought—God as the Divine “Recycler.” 

That thought confronted me head-on, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly two years ago. Since breast cancer shows up nowhere in my family history, the diagnosis came unexpectedly. Yet suddenly, there I was facing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, along with the complete loss of my hair. As I processed the devastating reality of it all, I turned to God for strength and experienced His power and peace in my heart, even without guarantees that this would end the way I wanted. After my initial shock subsided, I began to consider what the “Divine Recycler”—the One who truly wastes nothing—would do in my life as I endured this trial.

As I shared my diagnosis with friends and asked for their prayers for my healing, I found myself saying, “By the end of this, I hope to be much more like Jesus.” It seemed to me that would be the greatest “gain” from this trial. I could become more like Christ.

I’ll never forget, however, very early one morning—about two weeks after my diagnosis—when the Lord woke me up, speaking deeply and clearly to my heart. I bounded out of bed, as Scripture verses flooded my heart and mind. The Apostle Paul’s words came first: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10). Then came a verse from Jeremiah: “…let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me…” (Jeremiah 9:24). Finally, there was a verse from John: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). 

It became clear to me: the greatest gain to be had was not that I would become more like Jesus, but rather, that I would know Him! It was a subtle difference, perhaps, for of course, I absolutely desire to become more like Christ. However, that morning, it dawned on me that the most important thing I would gain would be God Himself—the One who promised to be with me always, even in the lonely and uncertain moments of cancer treatment. My knowledge and experience of God would certainly deepen, as I walked with Him through this valley of the shadow of death.

As I reflected that morning, I realized that while my own personal spiritual formation is a worthy goal, it is not my life’s ultimate goal. Holiness is not some sort of spiritual self-actualization process, Instead, it is a by-product—a wonderful side effect of transformation—that comes out of my ever-deepening relationship with my Sovereign Creator. I open my life to His loving presence that, in turn, enables me to love Him back with my heart, soul, mind and strength. A goal that puts the focus on me is simply too small. I now understand more fully that my focus should be on Christ and on God Himself! 

Thomas Merton once wrote, “The only thing to seek in contemplative prayer is God.” This thought has given me words for the ultimate purpose of my life: I will seek God for God’s own sake. Today, I praise God that I am cancer-free, and I will continue to sing of the faithfulness of God, the “Divine Recycler,” who uses whatever comes my way as a means to draw me closer to Himself. 

Lt. Colonel Lisa Smith, program secretary for the West, lives in Torrance, CA, with her husband Kyle, a New Zealand Salvationist she met while doing relief work in post-war Rwanda in 1994. Their sons Landon and Brennan are both studying for their bachelor’s degree in New Zealand. 

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