Pressure Helps Us Grow

As part of my son’s post-chemo physical therapy, we’ve been taking him to a local gym that has a large “lazy river” in its pool area.

In the early morning, this concrete river is essentially empty of people, which gives Aaron the opportunity to stretch out and get his body moving. At this point, any bodily movement is beneficial, as his body was essentially sidelined for 4 straight months.

A lazy river is typically meant for people to go with the flow of the current. You jump in the water or get on an inner tube and let the river carry you along. It can be really relaxing. But it won’t do much for your conditioning.

The quickest way to engage one’s muscles in a lazy river is try and walk or paddle against the current. It’s amazing how a little pressure causes the muscles to work way harder!

I think the same principle applies to life. A life that never faces any resistance rarely gets stronger. Going with the flow and avoiding any pressure means we will miss opportunities.

Now, I don’t think we need to go out looking for pressure. The way life is designed, pressure will find us. Job challenges. Health challenges. Relational challenges. Financial challenges.

Sometimes we attempt to avoid the pressure these challenges bring about. In his book EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY, Peter Scazzero writes:

“Our culture routinely interprets trials, challenges and losses as alien invasions that interrupt our “normal” lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addictions and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts. We demand others take away our pain.”

But when don’t face challenges with courage and perseverance, we miss out on the lessons such trials offer us.

One may ask, “What type of lessons do trials provide?” Two scriptures provide some answers:

First is James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The takeaway of these verses? That we can become more steadfast by facing our challenges. I picture a tree with deep roots being able to endure storm after storm.

The second passage is Romans 5:3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Beyond endurance, pressure can build character and hope! These our two qualities that our vital to a person’s well-being.

Regarding trials, theologian Edmund Clowney said: “Trials should not surprise us, or cause us to doubt God’s faithfulness. Rather, we should actually be glad for them. God sends trials to strengthen our trust in him so that our faith will not fail. Our trials keep us trusting; they burn away our self confidence and drive us to our Savior.”

It’s easy to go with the flow. But there’s little growth gained by floating along with the current.

Life’s trials are not easy. But in God’s will, each has a purpose. Allow the pressure to do its work in order to make you stronger, wiser, and more humble.

How I Felt When I Heard Aaron’s Good News Cancer Report

Last Thursday, Aaron had his post-chemo PET-Scan. The purpose was to scrutinize his body in order to spot any cancer that may still be lingering after treatment.

The next day, Sara, Aaron and I drove over to the Cancer Center at Kootenai Health to hear the results.

All of us were nervous. After 3 months of brutal chemo, the only thing we wanted to hear was that Aaron was in remission. We wanted to be hopeful and positive, but perhaps as a way of cushioning any blows, we kept our feet on the ground.

Thankfully, we got to hear the world “remission.” There were no cancer markers picked up by the scan! (The only side-effect of chemo was that Aaron’s lungs are a bit inflamed.)

As the news sunk in, I found myself processing a few emotional responses to the good news as the day went by.

I was first struck with relief. Since March 8, we’ve all carried a burden. Aaron had to carry the biggest load by far, but with all the side-effects, Sara and I found ourselves as his full-time caretakers, trying to figure out how to solve his numerous wild and crazy responses to chemo. Truly, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Sometimes you don’t realize how much stress you are carrying until it the burden is removed.

As we walked out of the Cancer Center, my eyes filled up with tears. Mainly on behalf of Aaron. This was his “win.” He had the most to lose, and I felt so happy for him that his treatment was effective. Throughout his treatment, I felt the need to be strong rock for him. But with his favorable report in hand, I felt the freedom to release some unfiltered empathy. Before we got to the car, I gave him a big hug, full of thanks for his unique, precious life.

As they day went on, I felt more and more joy well up in my spirit. Over the past 4 months, joy has been in short supply. Its as if I haven’t had permission to be happy, due to Aaron’s dire situation. Cancer has a way of making one very sober about life and death.

Finally, I processed emotions of humility. Life is fragile and we have no guarantees of how long it will last. For all our bluster and bravado, we humans are like dust. The Bible reminds us of our feeble frame when it says:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. – James 4:14 CSB

We’re all so vulnerable. In the scope of the universe, we’re mere specks. We may feel invincible at times (particularly in our youth), but the reality is we are frail and fragile.

I think my feelings of being humbled by this whole “Aaron has cancer” experience were an internal form of worship. Rather than raise my fist in the air and give out a victory cry, I felt more like bowing my head in awe and wonder to the creator of everything. Such feelings made me think of the doxology written by Paul in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches
and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments
and untraceable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.

As the days and weeks go by, I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts and feel more feelings. But this is how I felt on July 2, 2021. The day Aaron was told his cancer was in remission.