My completely unexpected and unasked-for journey began when I noticed a nodule on my body after working out one day at the YMCA. I soon learned I was battling the Big C. Or is it the little c? Yes, it has got to be the little c, because Christ is the Big C, and that proved to be the truth through seemingly endless rounds of treatments.
That round of cancer ended in victory and with the miracle of God healing my skin, which had been severely burned from the radiation. It was so great to be healed. After a couple years, the cancer had come back, but it was now located in places that made radiation impossible. I again started everything I could do to fight this disease. I was full of questions, and so were the people around me. Why me? What did I do wrong?
The second round of passive immunotherapy was even more intense than the first type of treatments, and my immune system was ravaged. All this was happening in the midst of a terrific amount of prayer from people who really know how to pray. But I was internally struggling. How could this be happening to me? Eventually, the growth on my shoulder disappeared, but the growth behind my stomach was just sitting there, rather large and looming. So I had half beaten cancer a second time. At this time, my wife had severe pain followed by tests that revealed she had colon cancer. Michal Ann was plunged into a fight for her life. Four years passed, filled with ups and downs and pain. She never, ever complained. She always kept her smile.
Then I lost her, the only woman I have ever loved. We were married for thirty-two and a half years and we had delighted in our four children, traveled the globe, and written books together. We had prayed together daily and we knew the true meaning of the word love. We had battled our cancers together, too, and together we had undertaken every treatment available. But still, I lost my wife. Me, a widower? Me, a single parent? Me, drowning in medical debt? Me, the guy who had never missed one payment in my entire life on anything? Where was the so-called “abundant life” that Jesus talked about (John 10:10)?
Then a year after Michal Ann graduated to heaven, I found out that my cancer had returned—this time with a vengeance. I hardly dared to tell anyone the extent of it. Here I was, the guy writing books that would explain three hundred Scripture verses, and I could not figure out what to do in the short term, let alone the long term. My resilience was depleted and my gifts and credentials didn’t seem to matter much anymore. I was groping in the dark. I asked myself, “Does God really care about me? Will this affliction ever end?” What are your questions when going life’s dark valleys?
I’ve come to see how unresolved questions can actually be a form of worship. Worship God with your questions? You would want your questions answered, wouldn’t you?
Yes, but I have discovered that one of the best ways to get them answered is to entrust them to him in worship. Worship him by trusting him with your biggest, messiest questions. Tell him you do not know the answers, but you know he does and you will wait in full expectation for something good to come. For example, my wife had some horses and my youngest son went down to the barn to feed them every day for the first year after her death when I was not able. That barn represented so much pain for me because she had loved it so much. Then the time came when I just had to get over it. I went down there for about an hour, hay allergies and all. I fed the horses.
My eyes watered and my nose ran and I hated every minute of it. I went again and it did not get any easier. I remember the day I went to the barn, crawled up into the loft, opened the doors and just started to scream and weep. I needed to let it out and express my feelings, and I decided that God was safe enough to take it. I found out that he was not the least bit offended when I told him how much I hurt and could not stand that barn. I don’t remember what I screamed, but I can tell you that it was not “I hate you” or anything like that. I just screamed my pain. And guess what? My scream of pain turned into praise. I started thanking God for those horses and for that barn. I started thanking God for that stinking hay. I did not understand it all, but when I turned all of my unanswered questions into praise, I began to offer a true sacrifice of praise.
True worship comes from the heart. I learned how to take care of the barn and the horses. (I tried, anyway.) And I learned to love that place. Enjoy it, even. It became a place of healing for me. Worshiping in one of the places of my greatest pain enabled me to trust him with all my heart. I might never understand the answers to all my questions on this side of heaven, but one day I will. The reality is that, right now, we all see dimly, and sometimes the only way to worship is to worship God with our questions.