Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Write-Up: Joy in the Journey

Steve and Sharol Hayner.  Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death.  Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Steve Hayner had been a professor, a minister, a president of a seminary, and a president of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  He had a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies.  But he had pancreatic cancer and had only months to live.  Joy in the Journey is about how he, his wife, and his family and friends tried to cope with this.

To my surprise, the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were about how Steve poured his life into others, and gave them the space to be themselves.  I was not expecting to like these parts of the book, to be honest.  Perhaps that is because I feel inadequate when I compare myself to such people.  I am resentful when I read Christian material that asks us to consider what people will say about us after we die, and that hold up as a standard some super-spiritual person who had lots of friends showing up at his funeral because he was such a great person.  What about those who don’t have too many attendees at their funeral?  Does God love them less?  I was expecting this book to be along the same lines as the Christian material that I resent, but it wasn’t really.  I do not have the same intense energy that Steve Hayner had in his hay day, but I can still learn lessons from his life: the importance of giving space to people so that they can be themselves, the value of mentoring and rooting for others, how honesty can be refreshing, and the value of sharing one’s platform with other people.

In terms of the theological lessons that Steve Hayner drew from his experience, maybe I was hoping for deeper insights, since he did have a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies.  But perhaps my hope was displaced.  The thoughts that I so easily dismiss as Christian cliches or platitudes can be a life-raft to people in distress, and even to myself in times of trial.  And, while I thought that Steve in the book focused a lot on himself, his own suffering, and his own attempts to find joy, perhaps I was not fair in thinking that.  Steve in the book did think about God and others.  Naturally, when a person is in pain, it is hard for that person to turn his or her thoughts away from that pain, and Steve in the book probably did so as well as, or better than, many people.  In many cases, Steve wanted to be with his friends, but he was just too tired.

The book did teach me about what many people go through when they have cancer—-the sickness, the fatigue, the hopes and the shattered hopes that accompany that.  I respect Steve’s account of how he, as an energetic, active person in the service of God, sought to cope with not being able to be as active anymore, and the valuable experience he gained from slowing down.  I also respect Steve’s attempt to find joy and purpose in his negative experience.  As his wife reflected on his contributions to life, she saw his death as such a waste, and she struggled to hold on to faith in the midst of that.  Moreover, people were asking questions about the value of praying for the sick, when it was not apparent that Steve was getting any better.  Steve reflects on that.

I cannot say that reading this book gave me a great deal of pleasure, per se, but I do think that it was important for me to read.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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