Over Christmas break, our family spent an afternoon downtown at the Cummer Museum of Art. Although the afternoon together was lovely and seeing artistic excellence is always inspiring, the artwork pictured above has haunted me for the past few weeks. Amid the various artistic styles, this one, I wish, were a little more abstract. But it couldn’t be more concrete and relatable. Rockwell’s portrait tells the story of this couple who made a trip to Mayo Clinic for his wife to receive treatment for her illness.
I’ve dreaded our own trip there.
Yet here we are, following this couple’s path, and myriads of people’s before us, packing up courage and humbly facing mortality crassly measured in centimeters and stages. We’ve all tried to buy time in exchange for treatments and tracking, and the prodding and plundering of our bodies. Really though, time can’t take anything from me. I know my days are in his hands.
During my phone conversation with one of the intake workers who was interrogating my health history, I realized she wasn’t just asking the questions for my best treatment plan. She was asking me questions so my information can help treat our daughters and granddaughters and their daughters after me. And all of a sudden, I saw my important connection to the women who will come next, as well as to the ones who have gone before me. Women who have sacrificed and suffered to help my treatment progress to where it is today.
Seeing your place on the spectrum of what has happened and what’s coming helps give you a purpose. And how much more so it is for the Christian.
For every big life event and transition, I have gained courage to face what I don’t know by relying on people who do. So when I got married, I too interrogated women to whom marriage wasn’t a mystery but something familiar and learned. I did the same when we had kids. I did the same when we started in ministry. And the same, again, when we adopted. It was comforting for me to know there were people before me and around me I could listen to and learn from.
But my most faithful instructors to this day have been people I’ve never met. They’re people I’ve relied on but have only read about. They’re people who have helped me gain clarity and perspective and purpose in endless situations. Their names are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and Sarah. There are other men and women, whose names I don’t know, who were tortured, suffered mocking, and even chain and imprisonment. They are people of whom the world was not worthy. And though they are dead, these people are still teaching me.
They teach me that I can reject optimistic platitudes in dreaded situations for the unshakable assurance of what I hope for eternally. They show me that Christian cliches and shallow theology can’t provide certainty about what I see and what I don’t. They show me the way of true, biblical faith, that is worth suffering for, so Christ can be formed more fully in me and in those watching me. They remind me that I’m living for and desiring a heavenly and better home where God himself is. A home where we’ll finally see what’s now unseen and hope won’t be needed any longer because it will be realized. They teach me that I can have an immovable conviction about those things that are fearful and the things that seem far off, not knowing my way forward, but boldly moving there still.
These people lived their faith. They believed God and that enabled them to obey God in the face of indescribable fear, unspeakable humiliation, and insurmountable trials. These were able to do what they did, and encourage us to do the same, because of Jesus.
“Consider [Jesus] who endured such hostility against himself, so that you might not grow weary or faint hearted.” (Hebrews 12:3) Jesus is the reason. And I’m connected to Jesus, too, who can make this fearful but faith-filled woman shut the mouths of lions, quench the power of fire, and be made strong in all of her debilitating weaknesses.
So when terror grips my soul and won’t give it back, and my body involuntarily trembles in fear so I can barely take the next step, I look to Jesus like they did. When I am afraid to pillow my head at night because the darkness of what might be comes to devour me, I look to Jesus like they did. When I look at my kids and try to block out the picture of them around my grave in deepest grief, I look to Jesus like they did. And he helps me look the terror, the trembling, and the grief straight in the eyes and be assured those things have no place where Jesus does.
I can make my own trip to Mayo Clinic, facing all of my terrifying fears, not just because of what I know, but also because of who I know. I know Moses, Noah, Sarah, and Abraham. I consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Because we all know Jesus, and he was the same for them yesterday, he’s the same for me today, and he will be the same tomorrow for my kids and those after me. (Hebrews 13:7,8) I have great faith that stands the test of time – and times of testing – because I have a great Jesus!
*This post is rooted in the truths I’ve basked in for decades now from Hebrews 11 and 12.