When you first become a parent, you’re blown away by the immensity of the responsibility. Suddenly there’s this little person who you’re responsible for, who depends on you for, well, everything. But after the shock wears off, routines get established, and your kids start sleeping regularly through the night, you settle into a new normal. And it’s a lot of fun.
Until your child is diagnosed with leukemia.
That’s what happened to Michael Kelley and his wife when their son, Joshua, was just two years old. And instantly, their world was torn apart—including their faith. His recently released book, Wednesdays were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, And God, takes readers on his family’s journey with cancer and it to deepen their understanding of what it means to have “faith.”
Many books have been written about suffering. Some are preventative medicine, helping you develop theological categories to understand what’s coming. Some seek to encourage readers in the midst of trial and suffering. And then there are books like this one—books that are best described as “devotional theology.” Wednesdays were Pretty Normal is a very honest look at Kelley’s struggle through his son’s cancer treatment:
- How faith needed to turn from an abstract concept into something active
- How we need to stop trying to minimize or self-medicate away our pain and actually see it for what it is
- How suffering isn’t an excuse to question God’s character
What Suffering Reveals
Kelley’s greatest strength in this book is that he doesn’t offer a sanitized version of events. He doesn’t paint himself as a model of faith or heroism in the face of the family’s crisis. Instead, he goes to work and cries at his desk. He cries out to God in frustration. He wrestles with this whole question of “God’s plan”:
You see the problem just as I did. If my family was really going to choose faith, then we would have to come to grips with the fact that there are parts of God and His plan that at best we don’t understand; at worst we don’t even like. We could no longer pick and choose certain parts of our belief system; we had to embrace all of it. (Kindle location 277)
This is a great word to so many of us. It’s not a soft, “don’t worry, God’s got it all under control,” said in a really well-meaning sort of way that really frustrates you. This is super-honest (and interestingly not too dissimilar to what we were thinking after a pastor tried his best to comfort us during a trial we faced some years ago). It’s so easy for us North Americans to take the parts we like about the Christian faith and leave the rest. But God doesn’t let us get away with that. And when suffering comes, we find out what our faith is really made of.
Belief Takes Work
Probably the most helpful reminder for me in reading this book comes nearer to the end when Kelley talks about the fact that believing isn’t just mental assent. It takes work:
You don’t “just believe.” Believing is work. Hard work. . . . Christianity is about believing, but make no mistake: believing is work. Problem is that many of us are working hard at the wrong thing. We’re working hard not to sin. We’re working hard to be generous. We’re working hard to read the Bible. What we should be working hard to do is believe in each and every one of those situations. We believe that in each of those individual moments, God’s resources of grace, power, patience, hope, and endurance won’t run dry. We believe in Him as the great supplier of what we need, and we do so one need at a time. (Kindle locations 1911, 1927)
How often do we assume we’ve got an endless supply of “faith”? How often do we treat the Christian life—or see it depicted—as if it should be a breeze, smooth sailing all the way. Effortless quiet times every day. A fulfilling prayer life. An unceasingly generous spirit… Kelley’s reminder that these things take work–grace-driven effort as D.A. Carson puts it—is a much needed reminder that the Christian life isn’t going to be easy. But the work is so worth it.
There are so many great takeaways in Wednesdays were Pretty Normal that it’s honestly a bit difficult to summarize. Everyone’s going to go away with different, whether it’s seeing that experiencing suffering doesn’t mean God has somehow failed us, or seeing that cherry-picking your theology doesn’t cut it when times really get tough. Whether you’ve experienced a great deal of suffering, or haven’t yet done so, there will be much that can be learned from Kelley’s experience. Get a copy of the book, be challenged, be encouraged, and be hopeful that when we’re told God purposes all things for our good according to his purposes, it really is a good thing.
Title: Wednesdays were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, And God
Author: Michael Kelley
Publisher: B&H Books (2012)