I hope you will bear with me as I share another edited excerpt from my book, Blindsided By God. And if you are interested in winning your own copy for free, you can enter this raffle being held by Goodreads!
After finding out that my wife’s breast cancer was not treatable with hormones and had spread to her lymph nodes, a recurring dream began to plague me nightly. In it, Carol would be lying motionless on a hospital bed, and it was never quite clear whether she was just sleeping or something worse. My daughters would then walk into the room and begin to weep, their little faces contorted with grief. It was then I knew that Carol was not asleep. She was dead. I would wake up at that moment with a gasp, and turn quickly in my bed to check on Carol. She was lying there, still but breathing, sleeping peacefully.
About the fourth or fifth time I had this dream, or some nightmarish variation of it, I turned to make sure that Carol was alright, and afterward began to weep, not in relief but in exhaustion. I couldn’t take it anymore, the fear, the uncertainty, the thought of losing my wife. Not wanting to wake Carol, I left our bed, went into the bathroom, and closed the door. But when my sobbing refused to subside, I went downstairs to the living room instead. Even that wasn’t enough. Eventually, my crying became so deep and uncontrollable that I had to go down into the basement so I could give voice to my trauma without traumatizing those I loved, a "three-story" kind of weeping.
But as I wept and mourned in the pitch blackness of my basement, something inside of me, a voice or a presence, maybe both, suddenly said,
“THIS IS REAL LIFE, AND THIS IS YOUR LIFE. SO STAND UP AND BE STRONG. YOU REALLY DON’T HAVE ANY OTHER CHOICE.”
I can’t say for certain it was the voice of God. But these words did issue from some deep place within me. And they shocked me to the core. If this message was from God, it was not the encouragement I had been expecting. I always imagined that if there was to be a great emotional or spiritual epiphany in that season, it would come from being reminded of God’s love and faithfulness, something softer and more sympathetic.
But what these words lacked in gentleness, they made up in raw truth. Thousands of women had breast cancer. Millions more had cancer of other types. Countless others have ailments that are equally terrible and life threatening, or more so. In the midst of everything we were going through, I never realized that our situation was not extraordinary. And my previous perspective—that tenacious assumption that our situation was unique in some way—was a lie, an illusion fostered by a sheltered and comfortable existence.
Moreover, crying and complaining would do us no good right now. They would not magically make Carol better. In fact, they would do the opposite, only frightening the rest of my family, as well as weakening my own resolve by keeping my own eyes stubbornly focused on how I felt, and not what I needed to do. I had no choice but to play the cards I had been dealt, instead of bitterly lamenting the fact that I had not been given the cards I wanted.
As I say this, it's vital that I recognize that there is certainly a place for lament in the Christian life. But even though there is a time for complaint, there is also a time for complaint to cease. Introspective lament may have its place, but it also should have an endpoint, at which point we should be prepared to dust ourselves off and face the reality that is before us.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the life of Christ himself. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is nearly overcome with anguish and distress. He tells his friends, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” He cries out to God, using a term of intimate endearment, “Abba! Daddy, save me! But not my will—yours.” He will say that two more times, swollen drops of sweat falling to the ground like blood.
But the prayers do not go on like that forever. After the third prayer, Jesus arises, and tells his disciples to get up as well. “The time has come,” he says, “for the Son of Man to be betrayed in the hands of sinners.” And then, he courageously walks directly to his fate. Jesus lamented, it’s true. But when it was time to get up, he got up.
And so I did the same. I stopped crying, and wiped my tears. And as I did, it was like a veil had been torn from my eyes, that I was seeing life clearly for once. Yes, our situation was a difficult one, a terrible one. But it was also a common situation. And piteous crying and complaining would not change that fact. Perhaps they had had their time and place, but now it was time for such things to stop. This was a moment that I needed to stand up and be strong, for my wife, for my daughters, and for my church. This was a moment made for faith.
This is not to say that I had never used my faith before then, but mostly to help me face the piddling everyday inconveniences of modern life: “God help me deal with annoying coworkers. God help me discern which of these two awesome jobs is your eternal will. In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.” But this is not what faith is for, not really. Faith is not a breathing exercise to make us feel marginally more at peace in the midst of modern distraction. It is stern stuff that allows a person to stare into the darkest void and walk straight in. Faith was made for hardship, suffering, fear, and sickness, for nights like that night.
It may seem prosaic to say it, but I consider this the moment I became a man. I don’t say that in some testosterone fueled attempt to reclaim masculine Christianity. I’m of the opinion that Christianity is more of a divine thing than a masculine one. Plus, the strongest person I know in the world happens to be a woman, so I hardly believe that internal fortitude is encoded on the Y chromosome alone. But the moment I became a man wasn’t when I got married, nor was it when we had our first child, nor our second. Any idiot can do that, and many idiots do. No, I counted myself a man when I realized that life was hard and unfair, but that faith was made for “hard” and “unfair.” Faith shows its true power and full worth in such moments.