“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
2 Corinthians 4:11 ESV
I recently watched a movie where the hero’s family is trapped inside a burning skyscraper. In one scene, amongst the flames and burning timber, he kneels to be eye level with his son. “I’m scared,” the son admits. “It’s ok to be scared. In order to be brave, you’ve got to be a little scared.”(1) Now here I am, in the middle of an action movie with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, with tears in my eyes. Because I get it.
I get what it’s like to be stuck in a fire that feels like it will consume you at any moment. I know what it’s like to look into your child’s eyes and see fear – fear that you can’t take away. It’s not monsters under the bed or a loud thunderstorm. You can’t just turn on the lights or hold them until it passes. The fear is real.
Sometimes, I can almost close my eyes and imagine that things are different – that we aren’t the family who people know because of a cancer diagnosis. For a moment, I see Austin as a normal teenager and us as a family who is growing up together. I imagine we are just regular people with every day sort of problems. But when I open my eyes, reality hits me like a MACK truck. The reality is Austin has brain cancer and it is deadly. We don’t know if we get to grow up together or even plan next summer’s vacation. We can’t see past the next MRI. We are in the middle of that burning building, the fire is surrounding us.
Cancer hasn’t afforded me the luxury of not seeing my own brokenness. I am reminded of it every day. And it is both a gift and the most painful, heart crushing thing I have ever experienced.
It might sound odd to you that I would call it a “gift.” I’m still struggling to find the words to describe it myself. But I have never been more sure of God’s love for me than I am right now. It seems that the hotter the flames, the more I know how deep and reckless and all-consuming His love is for us. His love is so deep, that He willingly stands in the fire with us.
“He thought of his Mother, and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came into his throat with tears in his eyes, and he blurted out: ‘But please, please—wont you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up until then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. . . . [F]or a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (2)
I may look strong, but I live afraid. That fear drives me to Jesus. Every morning, I get up and put one foot in front of the other. It’s because of Him. Every time I listen to a bad report at the oncologist and then turn again to mother my children. Him. Every single time I minister to others. Him. Only Him. Always.
That’s where bravery comes in. I have full access to Christ’s power when I surrender the full measure of my brokenness. Paul said in 2 Corinthians, “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9 ESV). I have to tell you, there’s plenty of other things I would rather do than boast about my weaknesses. Like hide in a cave. Being vulnerable sometimes feels like having my heart raked over hot coals.
But when I am brave enough to be broken, God’s “extraordinary power” is alive in me (see 2 Corinthians 4:7). When I am brave enough to face reality, I remember the greatest truth is that Heaven is real and Christ died so we might attain it and cancer doesn’t get to win. When I am brave enough to ugly cry in front of someone, I get to experience the richness and depth of true friendship. When I am brave enough to admit that it will hurt and things might not get better this side of eternity, I experience a joy that goes deeper than my circumstances.
What about you? Are you brave enough to be broken? You may not have a child with cancer, but I can assure you, my friend, we have all been broken. Your brokenness may have come at your own hand – through sin or rebellion. It may be a brokenness that holds you hostage — captors like addiction or anxiety. Your brokenness may be a result of someone else’s rejection – through divorce or abandonment. Your brokenness may be a result of death – I am learning that grief never goes away, only changes as time passes. Your brokenness may be a result of failing health or poor finances. Or your brokenness may simply be a result of living in a world that is dying. We live in the in-between’s and until’s – a time after perfection and before complete redemption. Whatever it is that caused it, you are broken.
It takes a good dose of courage to see the fire around you and admit that you are afraid. You need to be courageous to stand before others and admit that you are vulnerable, to confess you can’t fix-it, to ask for help. It will be painful, but it will be worth it.
I will never forget the day when I knew that it was cancer. They hadn’t told us officially yet, but I knew. I grabbed my phone and ran from the hospital room. Bursting into tears, I called my best friend. “I know God can be glorified in this, but I don’t want it,” I cried. And He has been glorified in this. Over and over, I have seen Him do “exceedingly, abundantly” (see Ephesians 3:20). Oh, but I think I know what Paul means when he calls it a “weight” because some days the glory of Heaven seems too heavy a burden to bear on earth. Lord, help me to be brave.
“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 CSB
1Skyscraper, Copyright 2018 by Legendary Entertainment and Universal Pictures
2 The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, originally published in 1955, part of The Chronicles of Narnia