Book Notice: “Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God”

I find myself choking back tears as I read these introductory comments in Michael Kelly’s new book:

… I tried to keep a two-year-old preoccupied in the prison-cell-sized examination room. We played with trucks. Then we played with a lot of medical instruments that I’m sure we weren’t supposed to touch. Joshua ate one strip of his sandwich. Then the doctor came back. He sat across from me. Looking at him, I subconsciously held my breath. My heart started beating in my head. Why was I nervous? We had been to the doctor before. But something was different this time. Then he started saying words that I never expected to hear: ‘hematology,’ ‘children’s hospital,’ ‘call your wife.’ Then he said the word that would become part of our everyday vocabulary at heartbreaking speed: leukemia (pp. 5-6).

This is the beginning of the journey of doubt and faith described by Michael Kelly in Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy Cancer, and God (B&H, 2012). Wednesdays were pretty normal, writes Michael Kelley (Director of Discipleship at Lifeway Christian Resources), until that one Wednesday when the diagnosis came. Kelley found himself looking for a bright spot amidst the chemotherapy routine brought on by his two-year-old son Joshua’s cancer. The book offers substantive fare for readers who are tired of prescriptive spirituality and would rather work through the difficulties of faith with brutal honesty. It also offers the reader a glimpse into the “dark night of the soul” that others may be experiencing as they undergo ordeals similar to the one described in this book. Worth the read.

Spurgeon on Leadership (12): Seven Lessons on Suffering

1. Leadership always comes with a cost. That cost often takes a toll on the personal well-being of a leader from within. Spurgeon suffered greatly throughout his ministry, especially from rheumatic gout, which led to severe depression and other complications.

2. Depression can afflict even the greatest leader. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and others suffered from depression their entire lives. Spurgeon had long bouts with depression and lamented that “there are dungeons underneath the Castle of Despair.”

3. Personal suffering factors into the overall impact that a leader has through his life and ministry. Suffering had a tremendous impact on the depth and quality of the preaching, writing, and other aspects of Spurgeon’s ministry. He wrote, “We have to be cut with the sharp knife of affliction, for only then can the Lord make use of us.”

4. Suffering is an integral part to one’s spiritual journey. Spurgeon be­lieved that suffering was a normal part of the Christian life. He agreed with the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Philippian church about “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings.” Spurgeon wrote that “neither good­ness, nor greatness can deliver you from affliction.”

5. Prayer is a great remedy for suffering. Spurgeon was a great believer in prayer. He often praised God and thanked the people in his church for their prevailing prayers, which he believed helped ease his suffering and brought restoration to him.

6. A leader can lead from weakness as well as from strength. Spurgeon used his illness and shortcomings as a means of identifying with the hurts of his hearers. He said, “I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

7. A leader should not be overcome by his suffering. As much as Spurgeon suffered, he was ever confident that there would be a better day. He wrote, “The star of hope is still in the sky when the night is blackest. The Lord will not forget us and hand us over to the enemy. Let us rest in hope. . . . Surely, out of death, and darkness, and despair we shall yet arise to life, light, and liberty.”