A journey through cancer and a journey of joy would seem to be two very divergent paths — particularly if the cancer is terminal and if it hits in the midst of a season of health and productivity. However, Steve and Sharol Hayner have invited readers into their experience of Joy in the Journey — a hard pilgrimage that took them through pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy infusions, side effects, great pain, and loss. They pull back the curtain on grace lessons from their day-to-day struggle to live their way into acceptance and peace.
Throughout Steve’s illness, the Hayners kept family and friends up-to-date using the CaringBridge website, never intending to write a book. However, their authentic writing and the deeply theological truth they share work in tandem so that Joy in the Journey avoids sentimentality, instead singing in the key of biblical lament. Abounding in grace, Steve writes through days in which he “prays his goodbyes” to the people he loves and to his career as president of Columbia Seminary. Sharol walks her own grieving with traveling mercies that allow her to wait through the weeks of unanswered questions and the months of serial unknowns.
Disappointing test results, a galloping malignancy, and nine short months of living and dying with a terminal disease demonstrate on a macro scale what those of us who believingly follow Christ know well: life is fraught with — even characterized by — tumultuous days. Able-bodies and good health make daily adjustments to circumstances and changing relationships a bit easier, but in all the unmet expectations that are part of “every normal, mundane day,” it is clear the we are being prepared — through our daily disciplines and laborious attempts to follow Jesus — for darker seasons and a deeper following. It is our response to suffering of all types that determines the impact the suffering will have on our soul, and Steve’s thoughtful reflections from the valley of the shadow yield helpful reinforcement toward a right response:
- When Jesus is all you have, you soon discover that Jesus is all you really need.
- As long as I have life on this earth, I have a call.
- God will never give up in His work to transform me into the likeness of Jesus.
- Joy is not about my circumstances, but rather about being held and sustained by God’s love.
Obviously, there is no “right way” to transition out of this life, nor is there a “best way” to grieve, but this stunning memoir and tribute to a godly man puts a spot light on a melding of grief and gratitude that is both reassuring and motivational. For those who are trusting God’s faithfulness, it is possible to claim the gift of joy even in the darkest days.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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