Not all roller coasters arrive when a carnival comes to town. I boarded my scary ride, marked by rising hope and plunging despair, last summer when doctors discovered my daughter April’s cancer.
After a weekend of waiting, the results of April’s scan in May were posted. I braced myself, as if I could keep from being pitched into pain. But, as I read, my joy soared. April’s cancer was shrinking. My daughter was winning her battle. The cruel invader was retreating. I celebrated. God had answered prayer.
My euphoria soon nose-dived. Worry, like the second wave of an enemy’s assault, returned, pushing me into anxiety. What if her cancer had spread? How would I have reacted then? April’s momentary triumph did not guarantee she’d win her war.
But, as her days of strength lengthened, I relaxed my white-knuckled grip. Fear of the consequences of April’s cancer retreated. The battle’s headlines shrunk to a smaller font.
Then the call--“Mom, they found spots on my lungs and they are growing.” Stunned, I numbly willed myself to speak hope. I was determined to support my daughter, win or lose, in her battle.
Bailing off this disturbing roller coaster was not an option. But, I needed a way to secure my seatbelt to serenity. How to maintain my peace and joy on this wild ride--despite the deepening downturns?
I found firm footing in the Bible’s account of a breakfast on the beach in John 21. Jesus had risen and had met the disciples as they fished. We’d expect Him to show up in the Upper Room. But when they were fishing? John was the first disciple to discern the stranger standing on the shore: “It is the Lord!”
That was all it took for Peter to plunge with glee into the sea, and swim for Jesus as fast as he could, then help haul the miracle to shore. After breakfast, warmed and fed, his delight dipped as he endured the pain of Jesus’ questions. But relief soon followed, as The Big Fisherman was reinstated to leadership.
But the deepest dip in Peter’s up and down day came when Jesus told him how he would die. Unbelievable! Was God still in control? “It is the Lord!”--Really? Why would God allow Peter to be crucified?
“When we die patiently, submitting to the will of God, - die cheerfully, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, - and die usefully, witnessing to the truth and goodness of religion and encouraging others, we glorify God in dying.” (Matthew Henry)
Peter’s horrific death would glorify God. His pain, like the Lord’s on the cross, was full of purpose. Peter never lost sight of the value of suffering. In both of his letters, he underlined the positives of pain well-endured:
I Peter 3:14--”Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you. So stop being afraid and don't worry about what people might do.”
I Peter 4:1-2--”Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.”
I Peter 4:12-13--”Friends, when life gets really difficult, don't jump to the conclusion that God isn't on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”
I Peter 5:10--”And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Peter’s perspective of death had changed, no longer desperate, denying the Lord in order to save himself. He now called death, even though by crucifixion, an “exodus,” the same word referring to the children of Israel’s deliverance from bondage. He likened dying to dismantling the tabernacle to change locations. Soon to depart, he underlined the joy awaiting the diligent. “Then our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will give you a glorious welcome into his kingdom that will last forever.” (II Peter 1:10-15)
The happy news of April’s cancer shrinking had brought praise. It had been easy to proclaim, “It is the Lord.” Then a following bleak report rocked my joy. Peter learned to say, despite his approaching crucifixion, “It is the Lord!”
Do I still ride the roller coaster? Yes, but the track is levelling out. Like Peter, I am learning to tell my fearful soul, “Listen! Trust God. Accept all outcomes. Whatever heights and lows are ahead, ‘It is the Lord.’”
”For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” (Romans 14:8)