HomeDooley Noted: Lessons from the Furnace (Part 1)

Dooley Noted: Lessons from the Furnace (Part 1)

We all have days that live in infamy. For our family, the moment came over a decade ago when we heard the single word that changed us forever. Sitting in a tiny examining room with wood panel on the walls, I knew deep down whatever the doctor was about to share would not be good. “I wish I had better news,” she said, “but I believe Carson has leukemia.” Leukemia? Not Carson. My oldest son was just two weeks shy of turning 4. Fear immediately invaded my heart and tears quickly followed. My wife Heather was breaking down beside me.

Now, 12 years after sickness put everything we believe about God and our faith to the test, my son is completely cancer-free. Last week his annual visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis confirmed that he continues to thrive in his life after cancer. We are so thankful. Sometimes I find myself paralyzed with amazement and gratitude while watching him play sports, laugh with his friends, or sing in church. Normal, mundane things are more beautiful to me than would have ever been possible apart from the trial that rocked us to the core. Carson endured 128 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy. Fever hospitalized him on six occasions and we spent multiple nights in the ER fighting viruses. He battled nausea, soreness, mood swings, and exhaustion. Yet, by God’s grace, my son is not only alive, but he is also exceling now that cancer is in our rearview mirror. 

People often ask me what valuable lessons I learned through Carson’s ordeal. In honor of my son, allow me to share a few treasures God taught our family in the furnace of affliction.

Lesson #1: It is okay to ask God why. Why is God letting this happen? Why my son? Why now? These questions ran wildly through my mind after Carson’s initial diagnosis.  Initially, it embarrassed me to bring such trivial inquiries before God. Even as I sought answers to my anxieties, Carson had questions of his own that needed answering. Why do those nurses have to poke me? Why do I need this medicine? Why can’t we just go home? Why are you and mommy crying? Why? Why? Why? 

Then it dawned on me. I do not resent these questions from my son. In fact, I am eager to comfort and reassure him that everything will be okay. Even when certain answers were not helpful for him, I withheld them out of concern rather than frustration. Could it be that this is how God hears our cries for information? Occasionally, well-meaning Christians or Bible teachers will either explicitly or implicitly caution that asking God why is out of bounds. Yet, the Bible nowhere teaches that it is sinful to ask God why. Job asked God why 20 different times. Moses asked God why He sent him to lead the nation of Israel (Ex 5:22), Joshua asked God why He was allowing Israel to be destroyed (Joshua 7:7), and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah asked God why He dealt so harshly with Israel (Is 63:17; Jer 14:19). Perhaps most stunning of all, however, is the remarkable lament of Jesus on the cross when He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Matt 27:46)?” 

In none of these instances will you find God irritated or angry because of the question. Questioning His work in your life is permissible even though demanding an answer is not. Feel free to ask God why, just don’t chastise Him if you don’t like the answer.

Lesson #2: Jesus really is enough. The issue is not whether God is real, but whether He is enough during seasons of difficulty. For years, I preached and encouraged others who were hurting to trust God no matter the circumstances. Though I sincerely believed this was true, I lacked an experience that tested my knowledge. That is no longer the case. Carson helped me to see that having God in your life is always better than any answers He might give to explain your plight. I found God to be faithful, not because I read it in a book, but because I lived it with my son.

Lesson #3: Faith does not give us the power to eliminate trials, but to endure them instead. It took a lot of restraint to hold back my anger when a man prayed over my son in the airport one day. Carson’s treatment was nearly half over when this man stopped us and requested to pray for him. No problem there. But when this man began rebuking the spirit of cancer in his body before boldly declaring that Carson was healed and no longer needed chemotherapy, I almost hit him. The health and prosperity gospel has always been offensive to me, but more deeply so after battling this disease as a family. I do not mean to say that God cannot or does not heal at times. However, the notion that all sickness can be removed by faith is patently false.  Sometimes God develops us through trials rather than rescuing us from them. I have no doubt that Carson will be a better man because of what he faced. Others also benefitted from the pain he endured. Our family grew in the Lord, several friends trusted Christ as their Savior, and a number of St. Jude families dared to believe they could beat cancer too as they observed Carson’s milestones. Perseverance is something to celebrate, not avoid (James 1:2-4). 

These are just a few of the vital lessons I learned. I’ll share more next week. If you’d like to read more about our experience, check out, Hope When Life Unravels, wherever books are sold.

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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