Today I am especially thinking about many I know who are going through cancer and other serious ailments. Not all their suffering is the whirlwind that JJ’s was, here and over before we could take a breath. They walk a slower path with many twists and turns and ups and downs.
I have a friend who, several years ago, had severe heart palpitations. She was afraid something was seriously wrong, and she was afraid she was going to die, and she was very afraid for her three young children if she died. Everyone in her life told her, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with you! You are going to be ok. Nothing is going to happen.”
Everyone told her that except me. I couldn’t promise that nothing was wrong and nothing bad was going to happen. I am not a doctor and I didn’t know what was wrong with her. I know that sometimes the worst DOES happen. Sometimes young mothers with children die. She lives several states away and I knew that I could not promise that I would be a constant presence in her children’s lives. So I promised my friend what I could do: “I promise that if this is serious and you die, I will faithfully pray for your three children every single day.” Not much comfort, except that my friend relaxed. I had heard her fear, and I let her express her fear, and I had addressed her greatest fear: to have someone care for the spiritual well-being of her children.
It never has helped me to pretend that bad things can’t happened. As I said a life time ago last week, it helps me to acknowledge and confront my fears, which is why when JJ said, “This sucks,” I replied, “It absolutely does!” When he said, “This is no fun,” I said, “Being sick and in the hospital is not supposed to be fun.” When he said, “I’m scared,” I answered, “It’s ok. This is a scary thing.” I suspect JJ found courage through the last few days at least partially because we let him express fear. We also clung to hope and faith.
I don’t think a courageous person is a person without fear. I think a courageous person is one who continues despite fear. And I don’t think a person of faith is one who is always laughing and singing and shouting “Praise the Lord” all the time. I think a person of faith is one who chooses to hang on to God when life is scary, and unfair, and falling apart, and there are no answers. A person of faith might sometimes sing and shout “Praise the Lord,” but sometimes he might sob desperately, “Help! I can’t make it another step without You.” Sometimes faith dances. Sometimes it chooses to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other through dark days. I, personally, think faith can look quite messy sometimes.
Years ago, I pondered that there are two different kinds of faith. I call them “Because” faith and “Even Though” faith.
“Because” faith loves and trusts God because He heals from sickness, delivers from harm, changes situations, reveals answers, and provides for needs in ways that we can tangibly see. I think it takes a lot of faith to believe that God can answer prayer and heal, deliver, change, reveal answers, and provide, and it is definitely worth praising Him in those situations. There are times we really need to see God work in such ways. He IS loving and good and answers prayers and we can praise Him because of it. However, if a person stops there, and only praises God when everything is going his way, there is a danger of having a superficial faith that loves the gift more than the Giver, and praises God only because He does what we want Him to.
Another form of faith is “Even though” faith. “Even Though” faith holds on to God even though He does not heal, deliver from harm, change situations, reveal answers, or provide for needs in a tangible way that we can see. This is a more difficult, painful, messy form of faith, often involving heartbreak and tears and desperation and wrestling with God.
It is, perhaps, unfair to categorize types of faith because I don’t think it can be so neatly packaged. “Because” and “Even Though” faith is often intertwined, and not so easily separated.
However, I have known people who accuse others of having faith that is too weak if it does not result in tangible, miraculous answers of healing or deliverance. They do not see the strong faith in the midst of tears and heartbreak and unanswered questions.
I, myself, experienced several years of sickness when JJ was small. I had months of sinus infections, several bouts of mono, and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome all at the same time. The specialist I was sent to for CFS said that I could suffer from this for the rest of my life. On my best days during my illness, I could homeschool my son, do dishes, and clean the house a bit…but no more. On my worse days, I had no strength for anything. CFS made me feel like limp elastic with no elasticity: If I got stretched out, I couldn’t bounce back. Rest did not restore my strength or energy. Often tears streamed down my face–not because I was sad, but because I was so utterly completely weary. I strongly felt during this time that I should not pray for healing, that I needed to trust God through it. A man in the church told me that in not seeking healing I was being proud. He said that a man needed a strong wife and I was being a burden to my husband. He didn’t know that I had been raised to earn love and approval through performance and CFS forced me to face a lot of fears–fear of being incredibly weary forever, fear of being a burden to my husband, fear of not being able to “please God.” He didn’t know that I was learning to trust God even if I was never healed, learning to thank Him for the strength for THIS moment, learning the depth of His love for me. There came a day when suddenly everyone in my life began to spontaneously pray for my healing, and I was healed. That was AMAZING. However, what I learned during those weary days when I chose to trust God for the strength for the moment, and when I trusted He loved me when I couldn’t earn it, was most precious still.
I also remember the utter joy when I FINALLY got pregnant, only to lose the baby in a miscarriage. I tried to be strong, to bravely “trust in God,” and I was doing quite well until I was honestly asked, “So…what does it feel like to be a mother who has lost her baby?” (A counselor I was talking to about abusive relatives asked me the question.) Then the tears I had been holding back with pretend strength poured down my face, and I began to honestly wrestle with a God who let me get pregnant only to take the baby away. There came a day when I faced that either I must believe that God is GOD and is good and loves me or I must believe He wasn’t and I should go live life as I pleased. I imagined myself putting all my heartbreak and questions into a box and handing it to Him. “I do not know why this happened, but I choose to trust You with it” I said. I have never received answers about why the baby didn’t make it, but my faith deepened at that time. I didn’t NEED the answers anymore. It was enough that He knew them.
We haven’t gotten the pathology report, but it looks like JJ is going to make it. Our son had a few days of illness, not weeks or months or years. To have my son have cancer felt like Hell was opening at our feet and Death was stalking him. EJ and I wanted to get between JJ and Death and roar “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I am so relieved and thankful because it looks as if Death was cheated this time. Some day, death may take him. But not THIS day. I will be glad when death is forever defeated and there are no tears or pain.
However, I currently have friends who are suffering from years of chronic illness, who are struggling with cancer, who have children who are suffering with severe health problems. I see their strong faith in the midst of the ups and downs, the good days and bad, the fears and the hopes, the laughter and the tears. Sometimes faith is messy and doesn’t look like faith. I am awed by the deep faith of my friends.