The sky is bright blue here in Florida today and we’ve got all the windows open. I’m a four seasons, snow-loving, pea coat kind of girl—especially in December! But I am loving the warm sunshine this year. What can I say? I’m home all day, every day with four little kids. What would I do if I couldn’t yell, “Outside we go!” on a regular basis? Right now, barefoot weather is just what we need.
We’ve been in a good rhythm at home lately. Most days the kids do a little schoolwork and a lot of playing. I bake bread and wash dishes and try not to let laundry spill onto the floor. I break up fights and kiss owies and do a lot of things with a baby on my hip. And then at some point most afternoons, we grab a few books, head out to the blanket in the yard, and watch for Ad’s truck to come rolling up the road at 5:30. When I crawl into bed each night I’m spent, and I like that.
But sometimes lately, smack in the middle of an ordinary, happy moment—I’m outside hanging the diapers up to dry while the kids ride their bikes—I remember, and the sadness rushes in. I remember that my Aunt Mary has pancreatic cancer, just like my dad.
In the Bible, people continually begged Jesus for healing, and he repeatedly said yes. But what about us? We can’t stand in line to see Jesus. We have modern medicine, but even six months of chemo didn’t make Mary’s cancer go away. My dear friend Jill, who also died of cancer just three months after my dad, told me tearfully at one point, “If I could just see Jesus, just touch the hem of his garment, I know I would be healed.” What do we do when we pray in faith for good news from the doctor, but it doesn’t come?
The question of faith and suffering is too big for me. But the other day I heard a teaching by someone who can speak to the issue directly from her experience with breast cancer, chronic pain, and her 47 years as a quadriplegic: Joni Eareckson Tada.
Joni prayed desperately for healing after the accident that paralyzed her. When it didn’t happen, she begged God to help her cope, and several years later he answered her through the gospel of Mark. In the first chapter, Jesus spends an entire day healing the sick. The next day he slips away before sunrise to pray by himself. When his disciple Simon finds him, he tells Jesus there is another huge group of people waiting for him. But instead of returning to perform more miraculous healings, Jesus says, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”
Joni suddenly realized Jesus had purposely walked away from people desperate for healing so he could preach the gospel to those who might not have heard it. “It’s not that Jesus did not care about all those people,” she explains. “It’s just that their problems, especially their physical problems, weren’t his main focus. The gospel was his focus. The gospel that says sin kills, hell is real, but God is merciful, his kingdom can change you, and I am your passport!” She says that while Jesus cares deeply about suffering, and rescued many people from it during his time on earth, he always prioritizes the spiritual over the physical. “The same man that healed blind eyes and withered hands also said, ‘Gouge out that eye… cut off that hand if it leads you into sin, if it leads you astray…’” Joni points out.
And when I heard that, I couldn’t help but cry a little. Ever since our son Isaac was born, the story of the man with the withered hand has been emotional for me. I’m trying not to ask the why question because I know there probably won’t be an answer for us here on earth. But sometimes I can’t stop it from popping into my mind. I wonder if Isaac will someday ask me why his hand is different and I still don’t know what I’ll tell him. But in my head now, connected to the why-question, is this principal: the spiritual over the physical.
It’s not an answer. It’s not an explanation. It’s a lens God holds out for us. And when I look through it, I remember there’s a lot more happening than what I can see from where I stand today. I remember that maybe God doesn’t want me to focus quite so much on the cause of each hardship we face as a family, but instead to believe he is working, and to train mind and my heart to quiet down and watch for him.
We’re heading north for Christmas this year, up to winter skies, empty trees, and hopefully a few snowflakes. We’re ready to leave our flip-flops behind for a little while and bundle up for the cold. Most of all we are ready to see family, and to soak up each day he gives us together.