In light of Sara’s passing on October 29, 2016, I’m re-posting a few pertinent items—including this one from May 2013, four months after the cancer moved to her brain.
They say: “You are so strong!” As Sara and I face another recurrence of cancer, now on her brain, we hear this comment from people who care about us.
They are wrong. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I must redirect the praise and correct the misconception. Sara and I have learned how weak we (all) actually are, and that our strength comes from another source.
In the summer of 2000 we watched Laura Wilkinson struggle at the summer Olympics. She had recently shattered her right foot, yet somehow had managed to make the US Olympic team. Wearing a protective shoe every time she walked to the platform, Laura was diving against the world’s best in Sydney. She was in eighth place, with little hope of a medal.
Yet, she nailed dive after dive. Slowly she climbed up the rankings. On her last dive, Laura suddenly vaulted to the top. She won the gold! It was nuts.
As she came out of the water a reporter ran to her and breathlessly asked: “Laura Wilkinson, you just came back from eighth place to win the gold medal! How did you do that?”
Immediately, Laura replied: “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
When we heard that, Sara and I burst into tears. It was beautiful, because Laura was redirecting the praise of an entire planet to the One who deserved it.
Athletes often thank their parents and coaches for all they have done, but that’s not exactly what Laura was doing. Parents and coaches can only sit in the stands and watch an athlete as she uses her own strength and skill to win glory.
God does not sit in the stands. The verse does not say God gave Laura strength—as a one-time gift in the past. She was leaning on Him every moment.
Sara and I did not get strength from God in the past, which we now possess and deploy as God watches from the stands. No, Jesus is with us in the fire. He is continually pouring strength into us. We look to him daily, hourly, for strength. We ask him to give us, on this day, our daily bread.
When we are in a desert (like cancer) we need God’s manna every day. He doesn’t make us bakers or bread machines. He gives us bread and we simply receive it. He is our strength and our provider.
This humbles our pride, but also gives us peace. Our strength and understanding will always fail us when hard times come—so they cannot provide peace. Faith is not inner strength or wisdom. Faith acknowledges weakness and clings to the One who is strong.
It’s nice when friends and relatives comment on how well Sara and I seem to be doing. But it is wrong for us to accept praise for any strength people may see, because it is not our own. He is our strength.
“My soul waits calmly for God alone.
My salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my savior—my stronghold,
I cannot be severely shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2)