Teaching Men How to Fight Like a Girl
"Man's extremity is God's opportunity." George Whitefield
One of my heros of faith is the 18th Century Evangelist, George Whitefield. He traveled seven times from England to the United States, and preached up and down the eastern seaboard of what was then the American Colonies. He was responsible for starting and supporting an orphanage outside of Savannah, Georgia that is still in existence today. He wove together the various Christian denominations into a strong quilt of brotherly love through his powerful evangelistic messages. He has been credited with giving Americans their sense of being part of a country made up of many parts with a common bond of Christian brotherhood. He was a friend to America before she became a nation, and often wrote members of the British parliament to let the thirteen colonies grow and prosper without undue interference from the government back home. When he died his preaching and praying had made a huge difference in how Americans viewed themselves, and thousands had been brought into the Kingdom of God. I have often read his journals, and encouraged by his capacity to trust God in difficult days. When facing a crisis, I gain comfort from his profound proverb, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."
Platitudes and pats on the back from well meaning people were an inevitable response from people who tried to bring comfort to us after Dana was diagnosed with cancer. For some reason, people felt compelled to give advice freely or to share graphicly how a friend, family member or someone they knew had recently died of the very kind of cancer that has just attacked my wife. They seemed to be prompted by a voice whispering to them from the pit of hell. They were oblivious to the impact their words had on Dana and on me. Thank God had other people just listened, exercised the ministry of presence, and the power of prayer. They heard what we said, put their arms around us and prayed. It was great comfort and counsel.
After Dana and I received the news about her cancer we made our way to a restaurant to wait for our daughters to get off work. They were going to meet us so we could process with them personally the doctor's report. I had to get up from the table, and walk outside. The food tasted like cardboard, and the tension in my chest and the crisis induced brain fog had returned. I tried to prepare myself for the meeting with our daughters, but I was losing ground fast. On the front porch of the restaurant, I scrolled through my cell phone until I came to the name, Michael Catt. I have known Michael since we were young gun student pastors in 1977. The thought had come to me to get the word to him and have him place Dana's diagnosis of breast cancer in their prayer room. I knew the people of Sherwood Baptist Church would begin to pray for her. Like many pastors, he had more than enough to do in the day, but I thought I could leave a message on his voice mail. This seemed to help relieve the stress of not being able to do anything about my wife's conditon. It was a divine appointment when Michael answered the call. I don't remember saying hello, but I do remember blurting out, "Michael, Dana has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and I am trying to get ready to break the news to our daughters. I don't know what to say to them. I can hardly breath and I can't think clearly. Will you pray for us?" The sound of his voice, not the words that he spoke are what touched my heart. There was an immediate expression of tender concern. There were no platitudes or war stories. He immediately took our request to the Father. His prayer was not powerful because of the phraseology of it, but because of the theology of it. He took us to a loving God who could make sense of of this "extremity." God was more than able to handle His opportunity. As Michael prayed a calm began to come over me, and a clarity to my mind returned. I wept as he prayed, and did not add anything when he finished except words of gratitude and the promise to keep him and his church posted as the steps we were going to take became clearer to us. I returned to the table. We finished our meal, and headed to meet our girls.
When someone tells you that their wife or loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this is not a time to pull out a grisly war story from your morgue of memories. There is no comfort in being told that others have died from this long before your wife found out she had it. What they did not know is that her younger sister died of this same disease several years earlier, and Dana had plenty of up close and personal experience with what breast cancer can do to a person. We hardly needed to be reminded by people who could not control their urge to process with us their worst case scenarios and family medical history. It made me want to punch them in the mouth to make them stop the flow of life-sapping sewage.
On the other hand, it is not much help to hear, "Oh, you ought to be glad its just breast cancer and not anything really serious. They have made a lot of progress in treating it, and its not that big a deal anymore. They can just remove it and hit it with chemo and radiation and she is going to be just fine." Then they would order dessert or start talking about the weather. It seemed that many people were content to push us into one ditch or the other, but did not have the capacity to come alongside and help us down this difficult road for any length of time.
The greatest lesson we have learned from hearing the news about cancer is contained in the four little words, "TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!" The more we talked about cancer or other people gave us the barrage of their personal experiences, cancer seemed to grow into an undefeatable giant. When we prayed or others prayed for us the giant began to shrink in the presence of God. The IMPOSSIBLE became the HIM-POSSIBLE when we were led to give it to HIM in prayer. It was then that our extremity became the opportunity God used to prove Himself faithful to walk us through the "valley of the shadow of death." Prayer would never again become a ritual or a daily devotional exercise that we would check off our "To Do List" in order to get on with what we had planned for the day. Prayer would become the air we breathed or as G. Campbell Morgan would say, " the way we set our sails to catch the wind of Heaven."