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
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.