When I returned to teaching theology to undergraduates after being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I intended to say something about my condition on the first day of class. But I was still weak from radiation and from back surgery to repair two broken vertebrae, and on that first day I was focused on not falling over in front of the classroom. Words about cancer’s invasion of my body remained at bay.

By midsemester there still had been no mention of cancer. Then the first day of talking about theodicy arrived. Students generated a list of ways people try to fit together the puzzle of God’s relationship to human suffering, then the room grew quietly attentive. These young people wanted to delve more deeply into how Christians attempt to answer questions about why awful things happen to beautiful people, and where God might be in the midst of it all.

Into this space I carried my story of being diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer at 42, of almost dying, of the lousy prognosis—and together we made various theological attempts to find answers bearing on that experience. It was a tough class, but a transformative one. I’ve long followed Parker Palmer’s guidance about self-disclosure in teaching: use it to serve the wider truth. But it took time and courage to offer up this aspect of my life as a case study for God’s relationship to suffering.