Relying on God in life's darkest times

by Merrie Johnson, Youth Evangelism and Discipleship
Thursday, November 16, 2017 | 31 days old

I remember the first time I realized how hard being a mom was. I realized it when I had my first child and even more when my second child was born. No longer could I just relive my memories of when I grew up and all the life lessons I had learned from my parents — I needed my mom like never before.

Many of us have been blessed with terrific parents, and at this time of year we recall all those special moments with our own moms or grandmothers. For those of us who become parents, there is a deeper appreciation of what that term, “Mom,” means. How did she get so smart in knowing what to do, how to handle each child in their own way, how to keep everything going on such little sleep — and still tell you she would do it all over again?

Being a mom, for me, has been terrific. I have enjoyed every stage my boys have gone through, from tee ball, to varsity football, to driving lessons, and even to letting them drive on their own. I taught them how to tie a shoe, how to make a sandwich, how to make a bed. But the greatest challenge wasn’t in getting them to study or being responsible to do what they said they would do. It was when I heard these words, “Your son has cancer.”

How do you take that in when that was not even a conceivable thought two days after his 25th birthday? We were celebrating how God had blessed him with a great career and wonderful friends – even in Washington, D.C. How God had provided a great church plant for him to be involved in and a great network of co-workers. But come on, for this doctor to say that it wasn’t an infection, but the big “C” word?

The shock would not have time to wear off because surgery was scheduled for 48 hours later. This cancer was aggressive and had to be removed. Five weeks later, when he was recovering from surgery, we received word that chemo was not needed, only to discover through a scan two weeks later that the cancer had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. “But wait a minute, you said no chemo was needed,” we said. “How can this happen so fast?”

Have you been there? Everything is going as planned. All seems right in the world – at least in your world, with your family. Then the news comes. All is different now, and you know that your role as mom to your children will be needed more than anything.

I had taught my children at a young age our family verse, Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous, don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed, for the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go”. We had seen God use that verse over and over in our lives. When my boys’ dad had a mental breakdown and walked away from our family when they were little. When God called me to be the senior consultant in youth ministry at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, which meant moving away from Tennessee, where we had lived for almost 10 years. To both my sons’ graduations, and off to college. We knew God would be with us. We had seen Him work in and through our lives.

But now, we faced the biggest challenge of all. How could we face cancer not knowing the outcome? It was time again to put faith into God’s plan. God’s plan for us to believe in Him and follow Him had taken place. We believed in who He was — “The way, the truth and the life”— and we believed that no one came to the Father but through Him. We believed that, but did we have enough faith to believe that He had victory over cancer, no matter the outcome?

What would make the difference was perspective. God didn’t change. Scripture says that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He was faithful before; He would be faithful now. My perspective could have been full of fear and doubt as to why this was happening. But I had to change my perspective from “Why my son?” to “Why not my son?” Someone is going to get cancer these days. My son had the faith and belief in a God who was much bigger than cancer. Together, we would get through this and pray for God to use this to reach others.

This led us to express obedience to God’s way. We said, “If this is going to be our journey, then God, show us how to obey Your will for us.” It reminded me of when my dad would ask me to do something, and I would reply by whining. He would then sternly ask, “What did you say?” I then knew that my response should be out of obedience, and I would say, “Yes, sir.” I knew that I should not question his authority. If we gave God authority all those years ago when we surrendered our lives to Him as Savior and Lord, this was the time to really show that we still believed in His authority — and our response would reflect that belief.

We discovered that peace only came when we read or quoted God’s Word. As we turned to study the Bible more and more and to lean on God’s promises, a peace that passed understanding fell over us. We didn’t understand why a perfectly healthy 25-year-old guy was the one God would allow to have cancer. But we knew that this was not a surprise to God. It didn’t catch Him off guard even though it had totally caught us off guard.

We learned very quickly to be ready to sacrifice for God’s honor — that how we responded to cancer would either show that God was not who we had proclaimed Him to be, or that He was most certainly the God we believed in. We affirmed Hebrews 13:5 that said that He would never leave us or forsake us. We read Isaiah 41:10 and learned that God held us in His powerful right hand. We counted on those promises. We stood on His Word to face each day. The sacrifice now would be my son’s body and the effects chemo and cancer would have on it. But Jesus’ great sacrifice in dying for us and providing eternal life was still the message we knew many needed to hear, especially in the midst of our biggest pain.

God wants to walk with you and watch you grow. You can choose to hang on to your way of doing things, or you can hold everything with a loose grip and make your stronghold God. My son had to admit that whatever God decided to bless him with — either a few more days or a few more years — he knew who held his eternity. For this mom, I had to learn to let go again and again, as each day had its ups and downs — but the steady hand of God never let us go.

When we heard the news that chemo had worked, we knew deep down that God had just widened my son’s platform to speak boldly about his God who never fails to be faithful, no matter what that looked like either side of heaven.

Editor's note: Merrie Johnson serves as senior consultant for Youth Evangelism and Discipleship. This article originally appeared on May 2, 2016.