In a fascinating interview with Charlie Rose, David Brooks–who is now teaching moral philosophy at Yale–spoke, among many other topics, about Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.

Dr. Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, deals with the fact that he was living a life he didn’t plan for. Living in a concentration camp obviously isn’t what he hoped for. The crucial question became not what Frankl wanted out of life; it was what he would do with the hand he had been dealt. 

Dr. Frankl decided, “Suffering became a problem upon which I did not want to turn my back.” He made a decision to, in Brooks’s words, “suffer well,” meaning he would not allow the Nazis to take away his dignity. The moral of the story is that life happens, and you are forced to adapt to circumstances. How you handle those circumstances is really what defines who you are.

I was vividly reminded of this after learning that a treasured friend of mine, Steve Hayner–a man who was my youth pastor in college and to whom I have turned to for wisdom and support at every difficult moment in my life–is battling pancreatic cancer.

Upon learning the news, here is what Steve wrote on a site created to update his legion of friends: “So now by God’s grace I enter the next chapter of the journey over which I have very little control. Medically I’m in great hands. And God is good!” 

He later wrote, “We’re on God’s timetable in this–clearly not ours. We continue to be carried along and sustained by the Spirit, and the love and prayers of our amazing friends.” And this:

Reading about metastatic pancreatic cancer can be pretty scary, but we continue to be calm and are taking one day at a time.  There are never any guarantees in this life, and this is a chance to take Jesus’ words to heart, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt. 6:27) So we’ll choose the way of trust and joy instead.

Steve’s remarkable wife Sharol, in reacting to news of a medical setback, said, “We are definitely in the fiery furnace from Daniel 3 but we are not alone. God’s presence is very evident.”

There are moments that reveal the orientation of your heart and the order of your loves; a diagnosis of cancer is one of them. There is obviously a difficult road ahead. But Steve and Sharol have chosen to face this supreme challenge with honesty and faith rather than denial or rage. And no one who knows them is surprised.

If you’re lucky in life, somewhere along the way you come across someone whose integrity, grace, tenderness, and wisdom become touchstones for you. Steve has been that for me for almost my entire adult life.

More than anyone I’ve known over the years, Steve has helped me to see that often we find ourselves somewhere else than we ever imagined and that God can weave good even out of places of brokenness and pain; that we need to live our lives in light of eternity; and that while we may not understand what God is doing, hope comes when we cling to the One who holds the future.

“What the world needs,” he would say, “is not simply men and women of dreams and ambitions and energy. What the world needs is men and women who have surrendered to God and continue to do so no matter what.”  

When I was in college I visited with Steve to share a particular burden I had shared with no one else. I left our encounter in a very different place then when it began, with my spirits having been lifted by the words I heard and by the man whose extraordinary human qualities made those words meaningful.

Nothing has really changed.

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