This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with the grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here.
During the first two years of Dan’s cancer journey, I had become quite discouraged by the “Christian response,” to what we were going through, both at the small church that Dan was pastor of, and at the mega-church our family returned to when he no longer had the ability to pastor. In fact, I had completely withdrawn from being active in our family’s church, partly due to lack of energy, and partly because I had become gun-shy, so to speak, because of the unintentionally hurtful things that so many people said. I would attend worship services each Sunday but always hurry to my seat in the balcony, hoping to avoid conversation with anyone. I had also been attending the local Catholic parish, by myself, where I feel far more supported on a personal level. More importantly, in the prayerful quiet of kneeling and liturgy, I feel incredibly close to God Himself. We have all had to rely on our faith to cope with the things this world can’t make sense of.
On November 23, 2014, we had a guest speaker at our family’s church, Dr. Gordon Anderson, President of North Central University in the Twin Cities. That morning he gave the most incredible message called, “The Holy Spirit—Lord and Giver of Life.” I wanted to buy a thousand CDs of his message and hand them out to everyone I met, because his message of love and compassion toward those in the midst of difficult times, isn’t preached nearly enough.
Dr. Anderson spent a good portion of his sermon, speaking from the passage of Genesis 1:1-3.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis1:1-2).”
Dr. Anderson pointed out, “The Holy Spirit was there. God created a dark, mess, and He was there. God was there, hovering over the mess. We tend to think when it’s dark that God’s not there. That’s not true. It was dark here [in Genesis1:2] and God was there.
“When it’s dark and cold and empty and meaningless and makes no sense, the Holy Spirit is there. In your life, there will be times when it will be dark and cold and empty and meaningless, and no rhyme or reason or shape or life to it, and God is hovering over that mess!”
“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light Genesis1:3)”
Dr. Anderson reassured us, “God can turn the lights on. God is big and powerful. [Although] He does seem to take time and have a process.”
Even though we believe this, we don’t always feel it, and we just want God to hurry up and turn the lights on.
Dr. Anderson continued, “So what should we say when it’s dark, messy, meaningless, and we can’t see, feel or hear God, and we feel life is unfair? Here’s what you should say: You should say, ‘it is dark, messy, meaningless, and I can’t see, feel or hear God, and I feel like life is unfair.’ That’s what you should say! You say, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound like faith.’ Denying reality is not faith. Trivializing pain is not faith. Discounting the reality of this dimension of human existence is not faith at all because those things are very, very real. …This being Christian business is not about discounting suffering with some throwaway line like, ‘God is on the throne.’ This doesn’t always match up with the reality of our existence.:
To hear someone echo my feelings publicly in the church was so wonderful. It meant that despite what so many had insinuated, I was not without faith when I grieved the fact that my husband had cancer. We were not without faith because Dan chose to continue to take chemotherapy, rather than to test God to give him a miraculous healing.
None of this changed my situation, but it did take away much of the guilt that had lingered in me over the things people had said in the past years, trying to be helpful, but instead being hurtful. I had been affirmed.
Since I don’t have thousands of CDs of Dr. Anderson’s message, I thought I would include it here so that if you are facing a trial, perhaps something in his message will speak to you, or affirm your feelings. If you are watching a loved one, or even someone you barely know, going through an ordeal, I hope that this can give you another perspective of how to respond. I wrote to Dr. Anderson, asking permission to include this in my book, and he responded so graciously, saying that it would be fine, that he was glad that what he had to say was helpful, and that he would be praying for our family. What a wonderful servant of the Lord, he is!
You can learn more about Dan Erickson, his family, and his ministry at his blog,”Dan’s Pulpit.” Follow “Facing Cancer With Grace,” to read our continuing story.