The day I was diagnosed with rectal cancer, I kept thinking of Matt Chandler – a young pastor who in 2009 was diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite the deep suffering he was experiencing, his faith and joy were evident as he faithfully and passionately proclaimed the sovereignty and goodness of God in his life. Paul encouraged the Philippians to keep their eyes on faithful and godly men, and to emulate them (Phil. 3:17). Matt Chandler is certainly in that category of men.
Now maybe because of the “celebrity pastor” trend in our culture, or simply because of our natural inclination towards idolatry, there are potential dangers when we begin to follow the lives and stories of other believers – particularly of those who have a public platform. One of these dangers is the tendency to idealize or glorify other believers, and elevate them to a category that is inconsistent with reality. And as I began my journey with cancer, without even realizing it, Matt Chandler and his story became the standard I had to meet during my affliction.
Now it’s important to mention that as Matt shares his story, he mentions the fear he experienced and the tears that were shed as he endured his suffering. Yet for some reason, I had excluded all these elements in Matt’s story, and constructed an insurmountable standard where sorrow, fear, doubt, anger, anguish, and desolation were not allowed. I had concluded that I needed to be as courageous and faithful as Matt Chandler in order to honor God in my suffering, and that my story needed to look much like his story in order for my suffering to be meaningful. However, contrary to what I thought I should be experiencing, my heart began to struggle with fear and despair. This brought frustration and discouragement as I thought I was failing God and wasting my suffering.
In my distress, I shared these feelings with my wife and thankfully, God used her to bring me out of my folly. Her answer to my complaint was simply this: “…but you don’t know how much he struggled at home.” You see; my perception of Matt Chandler was incomplete and even distorted. I could hear his bold declarations of truth, but I was deaf to his expressions of weakness. My wife’s statement helped me realize that as godly and faithful as Matt Chandler is, he is still just a man… and therefore, he’s not much different than me. So I’m not Matt Chandler – the one I created in my mind – and neither is he. We are both merely men who are prone to the weaknesses and limitations of our fallen nature.
Now embracing the reality of our weakness could seem incompatible with what we think the Christian life is all about. Some people have actually suggested that God brought me into the valley of deep darkness because I am strong enough to endure it. An erred interpretation of Scripture has furthered fueled this philosophy by asserting that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. The truth is that God does give us more than we can handle because we are not the heroes in the story, He is! We are not “strong enough” to face the storms in this life and apart from God’s intervention; we will eventually succumb to the tempests.
Ironically, people have been telling me lately that they admire my courage and faith in the midst of my circumstances. Now as grateful as I am to hear that there are evidences of God’s grace in my life right now, I also feel compelled to dispel any idealizations that may exist. I want people to know that I’m not a “super Christian,” but rather a weak man who has infinitely strong God. And as I continue to embrace my weakness, I’m learning to trust in the grace the Lord supplies today, and wait for tomorrow with hope. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)