In the Shadow of Death, Part 1

Last April, Alan wrote to me from what he feared would be his wife’s death bed. They were struggling because they both had a firm conviction that God was going to heal her. She had been diagnosed in late 2014 with metastasized breast cancer and given only months to live. Though she had defied those odds by years, her disease continued to progress relentlessly. Why wasn’t God healing her? What more did they need to do to make the difference?

Disease, healing, death, faith, truth, love, mortality, and eternity all converge in death’s shadow, where our emotions are rawest and where it isn’t always easy to separate reality from illusion. Do you keep praying for healing, or take advantage of those last days to have the tender moments to say good-bye to each other? If we do say good-bye, are we demonstrating a lack of faith that will nullify the healing we want? There are no easy answers here that will easily fill in the blanks. Discerning God’s purpose and resting in it can seem all but impossible given an outcome we want so desperately.

That contact began a lengthy email conversation over the intervening months as he let me into the tenderest part of his heart. I wanted to provide a safe place where faith and honesty could walk together as he navigated the uncertain days ahead. With his permission, I want to share that exchange with you, which still continues to this day. I’m going to do it in multiple posts over the next couple of weeks to let you live through the story with us and the things we’ve been learning together, walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

This struggle is all the more complicated when people believe that God is still active today and that he still heals the sick and raises the dead. I believe that. God does make himself known through miracles, gifts of wisdom and discernment, and healing. I’ve seen God do outrageous miracles throughout my life. I’ve also been in many situations where healing seemed so important, but one didn’t come despite the ardent prayers and belief of those involved.

It is not always easy to understand why God doesn’t give us all the miracles we think his love would guarantee, especially when someone we love is at death’s door. We can quickly turn on him, thinking him unloving, or condemn ourselves for not doing enough for him to act. All of this comes into question during our conversation and the events that unfolded. We’ll all face it, with people we love and eventually with our own mortality. Learning how to transit the Valley of the Shadow of Death trusting a loving Father will make those days far easier.

It all began one day in April with this email:

From Alan on April 26:

I have been crying out to God for mercy as my beautiful wife, Lynn is literally at death’s door. She was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer three days before Christmas in 2014. The oncologist said it had spread all over her body and gave her 2 1/2 to 3 months to live. But she is still here, and I literally thank God for every day.

Still, I have prayed daily over these four plus years for her complete physical healing, which hasn’t come. Sadly, last December, a scan revealed that there were “places in her brain” where cancer had spread. She declined in a matter of a few weeks, and I had to call in hospice whose nurse said, “She will likely be gone in two to three days.” That was in early February.

Since then, she rebounded remarkably, going from being bedbound to walking around without assistance. We were so hopeful that the miracle of complete physical healing might be any day. It was weird, Wayne, because I could not understand why God did not just heal her all the way. Nevertheless, every night before bed, we would bump fists and say to one another, “Another day!”

Last week she plummeted medically and lost her balance. I preach on my podcast and in opportunities where I am asked to speak, Isaiah 53 and the horror Jesus endured for our healing. I genuinely believe miracles are for today and that the Word is true. I share things that I have learned through your ministry, and I do believe He loves me.

She told me a couple of days ago, “You need to let me go.” I was devastated. Up to this point, she was all-in for being healed in this realm. (I know she will be healed when she steps fully into the eternal realm, but we both were believing for her physical healing now in this body.)

Through tears, I walked her to the door and told her, “Go ahead, Lynn. Enter into your rest. Listen as God says to you, “Well done.” I guess her body is not ready yet to shut down even though she is ready to leave. The last three days have been brutal, watching her decline more and more, still asking God for a miracle, and wanting her suffering to end either by that miracle or by stepping into eternity.

So here I am, an ordained minister, a veteran Christian, and a crying, broken mess. It would not be so difficult if the statements in Scripture were not so affirmative. “Speak to this mountain and believe” “Ask anything in My name, and it shall be done” “By His stripes, you are healed” “If any two of you agree it shall be done” and on and on.

I find myself having thoughts like, “Why doesn’t it work?” I ask God, and He is silent. I know He is not a genie, but I find myself thinking if we can’t trust these healing Scriptures, why even bother to ask? I know the answers I would give to someone in my position, it just seems so much more difficult to walk through personally.

Wayne, it’s incredibly hard. The Bible says, “the two will become one flesh,” and I feel like I am being ripped apart brutally.

My Response:

Your email broke my heart this afternoon. I am touched by your need, the passion you have for Lynn, your confusion at the healing Scriptures that seem to put God’s power at our disposal, and the horror of standing at death’s door with the love of your life. I can’t imagine… My heart really goes out to you and please know that I am praying for you in this most trying of circumstances.

I have no answers, as you well know. Just a compassionate heart and one that will hold you and Lynn before the Father today. I know God heals. I have witnessed some extraordinary miracles in my life, and I’ve also seen people die in the face of the most ardent, sincere, selfless prayers. As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason as to why this one and not that one, at least that we can see from here. I do know God heals. I also know that healing is not at my desire or even diligent prayer. Yes, the Scriptures are confusing. I know they mean something, but am pretty sure it isn’t what we are first inclined to think.

I also know it is exhausting for people to try to get healed, or to try to get a loved one healed. Even trying can rob us of the precious moments we could have with them if indeed they are the final ones in this life. In the end, I know that all of my life, and that of my loved ones, is in his hands. Not everything he does will make sense to me in the confines of this age, but will in the age to come. There lies our hope. Whether Lynn rebounds or slips more directly into Father’s hands, is not ours to control.

It sounds like you’ve loved her well. Keep on loving her to the end. Her healing was never in your hands. You’ve had to walk a most painful journey, and my heart goes out to you. If I weren’t in Norway at the moment, I’d give you a call just to express that more personally and to let you know you are not alone at this moment. That God understands ALL your pain and disappointment in these circumstances, and his love will swallow them all up in time.

Hurt with him. Grieve with him. Hold your question before him. He will get you through this. Faith does not rest on the outcomes we want most, but a Father’s love we can trust even when don’t understand.

Please keep me posted on what unfolds here. I’ll be praying for you both, that the comfort, power, and fullness of God’s presence will be your strength and refuge every day.

To be continued…

Next post in this series

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27 thoughts on “In the Shadow of Death, Part 1”

  1. Thank you for sharing. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my doubts and misunderstanding of scripture. My heart goes out to and joins with Alan & Lynn. I hope that in and through Father’s love they can sense mine as well.

  2. This is one of the hardest journeys to travel. This morning I was pondering elements of this blog before I read it. I’m eager to follow the conversation between Wayne and Alan. I’m certain to find wisdom as I identify with the same questions that grip me. Alan, one thing for certain, Father’s peace is always with us, even when we can’t sense it.

  3. My greatful thanks to Alan to allow me into his and his dear wife’s lives via this blog. It is timely for me as I also am asking God the same sort of questions, although his situation with his wife is more heart wrenching. I have prayed and lengthened legs and been party to other miracles and healings during my time in pastoring God’s people at a local church in NZ, but for some reason when it comes to praying for oneself and others in this day that we are living, I can’t get the same results. It will be a priviledge to join with yourself and many others that Alan will have his prays answered as he would like, and that God will see fit to show him and speak with him some understanding re this matter regardless of the outcome.

  4. miraculously timely…stunningly appropriate….words in due season….I just enrolled my 98 year old mother in Hospice Care..for the second time in three years…just to know that others struggle is a comfort…praying for all of us and that is a comfort as well. I am grateful for the sharing and the wisdom.

      1. thank you Wayne…I have been reading your blog’s with Alan and they are such a comfort. Both his questions and your wisdom working together in my situation. Would you consider praying for my mother? She is a believer but her physical condition has caused some dramatic personality changes…they break my heart but I do believe that God will use this experience in my life…what I would like prayer for her is that she has peace. I would also love to see you put these blogs into book form…it would bless countless other, I am sure. Thank you, I am grateful. Please let Alan know that his story is helping me.

        1. (From Wayne) Of course, I’ll pray for your mom, Connie. Not just for peace, but all that God wants to do in both of you through this season in her life. It isn’t easy watching our children or our parents suffer, that’s for sure. But there’s grace that will carry you through this, and your mom as well. He is preparing you both for things yet to come. Trust his glory to unfold in this. Blessings and love…

  5. Thank you for sharing this Wayne. My best friend’s husband just died from brain cancer. I shared this with her this morning and she said this letter total expressed accurate words for her her recent experience with Paul. I’m so thankful she chooses to press into her relationship with the Lord, rather than question who He is to her. Your blog deeply touched my husband as well as Paul was his closest friend. Love you 💕

    1. Hi Shawna. I’m so sorry about your friend. Death is hard enough to face on its own, and when it comes at younger ages than seems customary. There are at least 13 more posts in this blog to come. I hope they bring comfort and hope as well as some insight into the process of trust and grief for you all. I know each cirumstance is so different, so you never know. Thanks for writing. I’ll be praying for all of you.

  6. Thank you for sharing this with we can pray..A friend of mine died,I was sad, feeling weak..A Jesus’sentence jumped into my heart:”you’re sad because I’ll leave you..if,you really loved me,you would be glad my going back To my Father “those words helped me To let her go..if I “really” loved Her,I had To let her go and pray for her, for her last was as if I helped her for her new birthday,I told her To relax,that everything would .be all Wright now.. I was glad to tears when she left in peace. God has given me the opportunity to participate to help someone for her new birth.I am crying now, remembering this moment of my life..I anderstood,that precise day that death was not anymore death but a birth To à New Life..a better Life..a Life with HIM..since then, death does not appear To me anymore like the end of life,but the beginning of THE real Life. Doing this jump in Faith,in a way,that moment-helping my friend to cross the river-became the beginning of a New reality for me toi about my own “death”..if it can help someone..

  7. Sherrie lynn Burkett

    During reading this, the thought kept coming to mind, He did heel her. She was not cured but heeled to live way beyond the time given. I feel in my heart God answer his prayers, just not in the way they asked or hoped for. I feel God knew and understood the love they had for each other and gave them extra time together. I know in my own life I have prayed for things almost missing the answers because they where not my way or prayer. I do so believe God hear s our every words. Times like these are very hard, love , true is hard to come by. They where blessed in two ways, blessed to know love and blessed with extra time. Thank you Jesus for being with them, I pray for comfort for Alan, help him feel the love God is giving him to walk him through.

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