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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rich Young Man

I went through a lot of struggles as I tried to understand and reconcile Andrea’s cancer and her near constant bad test results. I had prayed for years for Andrea’s healing only to find no relief. I had asked for healing in every way I knew. I had pleaded, begged, and promised all to no avail. I had asked so many times I started to think I was bugging God with the same request over and over. I constantly struggled with asking for the desire of my heart and Allowing God to be sovereign and trusting Him. Was I lacking faith in God by constantly asking for healing? Did He really need to hear me over and over, sometimes 100s of times a day ask for the same thing? Was God hard of hearing or was I not using the right words. Was I being a nuisance to Him? Was I lacking faith by not believing for healing? Should I have taken a stand and just said Andrea is healed and not wavier or was I shutting the door on God’s will, just trying to shout so I did not hear what I did not want to hear? The stakes were so high, life and death for my best friend and the most important person in my life. How does God’s will and my will intermesh? That really was the question. I wish I could tell you the answer. All I know is what I experienced and that is what I’m trying to express in this blog. The answer is mine alone I do not think this is a one size fits all response from God. It was a custom fit for me and it had to do with my life, experiences, my strengths and my weaknesses.

I learned many things during the 4years and 4 months of treatment Andrea endured and truthfully I always felt a little guilty growing and learning and becoming a better person while Andrea suffered and died. But not as guilty as I would feel if I did not learn, change and grow from that experience. It is hard to pick the most important lesson I learned but certainly one of the most important is God’s place in my life which I have written about in previous blogs. This blog a slightly different angle on that subject.

Mark 10: 17-31
The Rich Young Man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother." "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Why did Jesus ask the rich young man to not only obey all the commandments but also sell everything he had? Why doesn’t Jesus ask this to everyone? Why such a strict standard for this young man? We are told this is a rich young man, why so descriptive? He is not only rich but he is young. If he were alive today I picture him as a Harvard grad, always at the top of his class, used to accolades and rewards. He would be well known due to his wealth at such a young age. He would be used to having what he wanted when he wanted it. I think the descriptive words we are given help us understand why Jesus asked him to sell it all and give it to the poor. I think like today’s rich, successful young man he would derive a lot of his security from his success. He would be prideful of his accomplishments and probably very self reliant.

As I reflect back on Andrea’s treatment I remember Andrea’s first round of chemo in Alaska. It was hard, very hard in fact and we prayed and sought God but truthfully it did not demand us to totally surrender. In the beginning you find some comfort in your doctor, certainly in the medicine, and at times in the facts of cancer treatment. You see yourself as one of the __% that will be healed and in that mere fact you hold on to a portion of your life. There are portions that exceed your ability to control and I definitely sought God in those moments but there were times when I found comfort in the treatment or in watching Andrea’s strength or at times in the inability to believe that death could actually come to Andrea. She was too young, too faithful, and too “good” of a person to die.

Most of those footholds crumbled beneath me when Andrea’s cancer returned in 2005. When a doctor tells you the cancer is incurable you suddenly realize those things that you were holding onto vanish as the words flow the doctor’s lips. You feel naked, vulnerable, scared and totally alone as the words sink into your mind and you try to process the meaning of his words. Intellectually you understand the facts, but it takes time to fully absorb the impact.

Rather quickly Andrea and I began the process of facing death. Death was no longer some future event, something we would deal with when our hair was grey or our dreams fulfilled, our bodies tired, almost seeking relief from this life. No it came when we had many things to accomplish, kids to raise and the joy of grand kids around the corner. We had trips we still dreamed of taking; our retirement home still was an idea in our minds, all we knew was it had a big porch where we could watch the sunsets. Death had somehow leaped forward and landed right in front of us, we stood face to face with death and somehow we had to reconcile this fact with the faith we had professed.

Soon afterwards I began to hear, to sense or maybe feel God prompting me. His message, “Let go and Trust Me.” Those who knew me knew that I loved Andrea and we had a very special marriage. She was my life, my source of joy and happiness in life. So when I ran to Jesus I was not expecting to hear, “Give up your wife and follow me.” I felt what the rich young man must have felt, “Are you kidding me?” The rich young man had poured his life into his work and his money was his reward and his security now Jesus told him he had to sell it ALL and follow him. It was eerily similar to how I viewed Andrea in my life. I poured all my effort into our marriage and I was reaping the rewards of my work. Andrea and I loved being together, we were best friends but for me she was more than that, she was my security.

For the rich young man this demand seemed a little excessive I’m sure. He had kept the commandments, surly he could give the required 10%, maybe half of all he owned. Surly that was good enough. Like ourselves we sometimes face a trial and look around us and see plenty of people who deserve to suffer far more then we do. I asked myself why such a demanding requirement for this rich young man? If I had to guess I would say it was because if he held onto any of his wealth and possessions he would always place a portion of his own security in them. God knew that his source of security was intertwined with his money and as long as it remained in his life he would find comfort there. He would never live totally a surrendered life as long as he felt security in his possessions. How bad did he really want eternal life? When Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor, He forced the Rich young man to look himself in the mirror and choose his source of security. Who was his god?

The seemingly unfairness of this demand spoke to my heart when I struggled with why Andrea had cancer. The most faithful, honest, God fearing person I had ever met, yet for some reason she was being ask to give her all, and in doing so I was asked to give up my wife. For me that meant giving up all I had known and the one person I had intertwined my life and my security. When Jesus asked me to let go and trust him, I too was being asked to give away all my possessions, my security, and follow Him. I too was sacred and walked away sad at this seemingly high standard.

Like the rich young man I had misplaced my security in something other then what God had intended for me. Like the rich young man God saw this as a hindrance to my spiritual growth. The process of me understanding this did not occur overnight; in fact it took over two years for me to grasp what God was trying to teach me. Did I really trust God and if I did then what could this world do to harm me? Could life be difficult? Yes. Could life be hard? It was. But did God love me? He certainly did. Could I trust Him even when life was turning in a direction I did not want to go? In time yes.

God continued to speak to me until and one day as I pulled into the driveway I told Andrea I had to let her go. I had placed Andrea and our relationship above God in my life. I have written this before and I’m not trying to be prideful in my words but I was good at being Andrea’s husband. We had an amazing marriage and I was proud of my love for her. So when God told me to let her go I was a little confused. Didn’t God command me to love my wife? Didn’t he give her to me? Didn’t He ask us to become one flesh? The answer to all the above is yes, but He also told me to put nothing before Him and to “First, seek His kingdom and righteousness and all these things would be added.” Did I believe that? Did I trust Him enough to act out what I professed to believe?

I will tell you after 27 months of fighting cancer you find yourself at the end of your abilities. No longer can you hide behind temporary strengths or mere determination, reality hits you and you have to fess up that you cannot do this alone. We have many crutches in life, things we use to hold us up when we lack the strength or ability to do it ourselves. Our crutch could be possessions like the rich young man, or a relationship like mine with Andrea. God’s desire is that He be the only crutch in our life.

I think the progression to the point of surrender is reflected in our prayer position. You begin by praying quick prayers, most often while you are engaged in other tasks usually as you stand. The obstacle is a mere bump in the road hardly worthy of your precious time. As it becomes more serious you may stop to pray even sit down to devote all your attention to praying. You begin to focus on the potential enormity of the task ahead of you. This is when you see a hint that the problem you are facing may just maybe exceed your ability to handle it. Maybe outside help will be required, but the odds are low at this point. At this point you start to feel a ting of worry. If the prayer goes unanswered your fear can grow. You had counted on this being resolved long before this point but for some reason this has not occurred. Now you will kneel to pray. This may be a first for many people and it reflects a definite escalation in the matter. The probability that you will need outside assistance is likely. Usually at this point you take your concern public and begin to seek outside advice, or ask friends and family to pray for you trying to get the odds in your favor. Surely the support of more Godly people can sway the tide in your favor. Finally, if things continue and you have not won the battle, you will find yourself face down, prostrate before God, hopeless, and incapable of finding your way out of the situation. You have exhausted all your options, expended all your talents and abilities to no avail. All your talents, securities have proven inadequate; they are as filthy rags before the Lord. If you get to this point you no longer utter words in your prayers you just lay there stripped of all pride or reliance on your own abilities. You are nothing and you need Him. God brought me to this point in the summer of 2006. I was finally ready to listen, even if I did not want to hear what God had to say.

Slowly I let go of my crutches, actually at time I did not let them go but felt life kick them out from under me. I will offer this one observance, when we face a trail in life and we look with horizontal viewpoint the trail can seem unfair, undeserved and unjust. When we look with horizontal eyes we tend to say things like, “This is unfair.” We tend to compare our situation to others seeking those more “deserving” of our predicament then our self. Our focus in on why this should not have happened to us. This horizontal view can lead to bitterness, anger and resentment and unfortunately it is our eyes natural viewpoint. This viewpoint is focused on this life.

Psalm 144:4
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a fleeting shadow

However, when we look vertically we see our life in relation to eternity. When I knelt at the cross, look up and saw my savior nailed to the cross, beaten, bleeding, and suffering and in that moment I lost all my “rights” to an easy life. I looked at my savior who suffered far more than I ever will so I might have eternal life with Him. This life and its trials shrunk in comparison to what Christ did for me. I saw this life as a vapor when I put my focus was on Christ, who loved me and loved Andrea more than I ever did or ever would. I was learning to trust Christ, even when life was spinning out of control. I had to look vertically not horizontally. I will never fully understand why I lost Andrea but I am confidant one day I will, and it will all make sense. For me it came down to this and I don't mean to over simplify a very complex issue, but God was either God, in the totally of what it meant to be my creator, or it was all a lie. Simply put I was not willing to give up on my faith because I Andrea's cancer was beyond my understanding. I may not have understood it all but I knew the character of God and somehow this all fit together. I was just going to have to wait to understand it.

That is where I was when I told Andrea, I have to let you go. I was not giving up on her healing and letting her die I was submitting to God’s authority for my life. I was letting her go as the source of my security and placing God in His rightful place in my life. Relying on Andrea was my personal struggle, my weakness. If you knew her you would better understand. She was so full of faith, so different from anyone I had ever known, it was easy for me to fall under her faithfulness and inhibit my own relationship with God. This was a four year process, but in the end I found myself a far different person then I was on Aug 22 2003 the day before Andrea found her lump.

I will share it with you my last moments with Andrea because I think it shows how far God had taken me on this journey. I had not really realized it myself until I was telling this to my friend and I began to form this blog in my mind.

Dec 17 2007

When I arrived at the hospital I found Andrea in a coma like state, her body swollen from her liver failing, her breathing labored and I knew she was telling me it was time. I loved her far too much to cause her to suffer for my selfish desires. I think my greatest act of love for Andrea was to let her go when all I wanted was for her to stay. Love is not about what I want but what was best for her.

At 1225 I told the doctor it was okay to remove the breathing assistance from the ventilator and Andrea began breathing on her own for the first time in 21 days. The boys and I stood by her bed. I bent over her and whispered in her ear. I prayed with her for the last time. I assured her we would be okay. Then I sang a song in her ear. It was a song we sang at our church in North Carolina and it was about surrendering our fears. I changed the word “fear” and substituted “wife” and I sang this in her ear. This is how it goes:

Here’s my wife, I lay her down, I lay her down.
Here’s my wife, I lay her down, I lay her down.
I surrender her all to You; I surrender her all to You,
I let go and give her to You.

When I finished those words in her ear, I stood up and the doctors were walking in the room. I asked. “Is she gone?” and they said, “Yes.” I looked at the clock on the wall, it was 1:07.
When I told that story to a friend it hit me how much God had changed me during those 52 months. I had gone from a man to afraid to think about losing my wife, to a man whose last words to my wife were surrendering her. I had sought God with all my heart for relief, for healing, and finally just for His will; His answer remained constant, “Let go and Trust Me.” Like the rich young man I was asked to give up everything I valued in life although my first response was much like the rich young man my face fell and I walked away sad, but God did not give up on me. He pursued me until I was ready to understand that Christ did not die for this life but for the life that is yet to come.

Psalm 138:7-8

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
with your right hand you save me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever
do not abandon the works of your hands.


  1. Wow Jim! This is so beautiful - yet quite convicting. I have gone through that "prayer progression" for a certain matter, and am approaching the face-to-the-floor-supplication step. But, when I look at my figural hands, they are clenched fists, desperately clasping the remnants of meagerness; God is asking me to let go so He can fill them with His inexhaustible bounty. I am SO that rich, young man (even though I'm neither rich, young nor a man...)

  2. Jim, Mark and I have read and wept together through this blog entry. Surrender is a theme of great meaning, though not often spoken of in Western Christianity. Your testimony is one of incredible weight and we honor you for the life you live as a reflection of Christ.
    Thank you.

  3. Wow. This post was incredibly touching, and so true. Thank you for sharing this insight.
    When will I learn not to open your blog without a tissue box nearby?