I’ve always thought of Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson as something of a perfectionist. I suppose that’s because no matter what problem people throw at him, he seems to have an answer. But I will tell you, the best answer I’ve ever heard from him, the one that gave me the most satisfaction when I heard it, was when the mother of a teenager posed some perplexing situation to him and asked what in the world she should do about her child in the teenage years, and the great psychologist replied, “Well, ma’am, you just try to get through it.”
That’s when I knew that James Dobson lives on the same planet and in the same world as the rest of us. He knows the frustration and the scariness of that dangerous but necessary stage all children go through, and he understands that the ultimate goal is surviving it. Just getting through it. There is life on the other side of adolescence. For parents as well as for the kids.
My wife and I are taking special delight in our two sons these days. The citizens of Columbus, Mississippi, where our boys grew up would hardly recognize them. In those days–their teen years–they bucked against authority and cut their own paths and exasperated teachers and parents. But they got through it, thank the Lord. These days Marty works in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Bank of America, and he and his wife are active members of their local Baptist church. Our older son Neil lives here in the New Orleans area, teaches management at Northrop-Grumman’s local shipyards, and with his wife and children are active members of their Baptist church where he is Sunday School director. These young men are excellent citizens, good husbands, and outstanding fathers to their children, and that gives me more joy than I can ever express. Most of the gray hairs in my head, they put there as teenagers. But we all survived.
Some things in life you just try to get through.
Since January 26 and until March 9, I’m taking 30 radiation treatments for cancer of the head and neck area. The doctors warned me that the side effects start to kick in about two weeks into the program and linger for that long after the last treatment. As I write this, I’ve just had the 21st treatment and the side effects have arrived in full force. My face and neck and shoulders are blistered like a bad sunburn, my saliva has dried up, my tongue is sore and swollen, and my taste buds have gone south. My taste has been corrupted to the point that I now know how Fear Factor contestants feel after eating worms and bugs and assorted animal organs. I feel like my breath could peel the bark off a tree. Nothing, absolutely nothing, tastes good, and I have to force myself to drink the prescribed ensures and smoothies to get enough calories and protein for my body to replace radiated cells with new ones. It’s a miserable way to live.
I was looking forward to that day two weeks after March 9 when the side effects should have disappeared. Last Monday, my oncologist casually remarked, “It’ll take about 6 months for your tongue to get back to normal.” Six months! Are you kidding? He wasn’t.
I feel like my four-year old friend Jacob Swartz. The other day, the orthodontist fitted him with a retainer and told him he would be wearing this for a while. When he started protesting, his mom said, “But honey, it’s only six months.” Jacob said, “Six months is forever!” For a guy his age, that’s one-eighth of his total existence.
It feels like forever to me, too, Jacob. But there’s only one thing to do: try to get through it.
Sometimes when I’m lying on that slab with the radiation machine whirring above and around me, and I feel stressed by the confining mask that has clamped my head in tight and won’t let go, I recite a verse that gives me a lot of comfort. “Who for the joy set before him, (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)
That fascinating verse tells us a) Jesus did not enjoy hanging on that cross, b) he focused on the joy on the other side of the cross, c) he refused to give in to the scariness or shame of the cross (literally the word “despise” there means “to think down on something”), and so d) he endured it. Some things you cannot get around and just have to endure. For Jesus, it was the cross. For us, it is this life with its ups and downs, hardships and disappointments.
Toward the end of their first missionary trek into Asia Minor, the Apostle Paul with his companion Barnabas decided to retrace their steps, to visit the disciples they had made on their way into the interior of that country, and to “encourage them to continue in the faith, and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.'” (Acts 14:22)
New believers need to know that between here and heaven we may expect a lot of trouble. Try to get through it.
Everyone’s favorite Psalm, the 23rd, reminds us that sooner or later everyone encounters the “valley of the shadow of death.” What to do? Get through it. And fear no evil, for “Thou art with me.”
Some wit once said his favorite verse of Scripture was the one that said, “It came to pass.” And so it does. Get through it.