On the first day of the new year, I felt the paradox of Christianity.
While on vacation in the Grand Canyon, I forced my family to get up early so that we could watch the sunrise. I dreamed of witnessing the first light of the new year over the mile-deep canyon. A winter storm dumped a half a foot of snow the night before, making it look like someone sprinkled powdered sugar over the massive rock formations and deep ravines.
As the sun broke over the eastern sky, the Grand Canyon flooded with hues of red and purple. A rainbow appeared. The first light of the new year penetrated the cold canyon, and the clouds melted away. A clear, blue sky prevailed overhead.
My eyes became a portal for my soul. I stood speechless at the grandeur of God’s creation. My heart was filled with worship. It was easy to be thankful.
A few hours later on our drive home, a text arrived that I feared might be coming soon: “Tyler Trent just passed into heaven.”
Cancer Came Three Times
Not only was I his pastor, but I had been his basketball coach, and he was a friend of our boys. Based upon what I was hearing from his parents, who are dear friends, I knew Tyler was entering his final days. But the sober reality of that definitive text was gut-wrenching.
Over the last four years, I’ve watched Tyler and his family battle osteosarcoma. I’ve seen, firsthand, Tyler’s steadfast faith in Jesus. I’ve prayed for his dad as he told Tyler that he had cancer not just once and not twice — but three times.
The swirl of emotions that ran through my soul was incredible. Tyler modeled how to suffer as a follower of Jesus, and when ESPN told his story, he used his fame as a megaphone for winsome, Christ-centered perseverance. I was honored to be his pastor.
But I also was troubled. I hate death, and cancer is evil — one of the clearest evidences of the brokenness of the world. I was deeply grieved. Candidly, it was hard to be thankful.
Grandeur and Grief
In the span of a few short hours, I felt the tension of Christianity: God is good, but life is hard. I marveled at God’s grandeur and mourned the presence of grief. When my heart is overwhelmed with this uncomfortable paradox, I’m grateful the Bible has a language I can use: lament.
Biblical lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Over a third of the Psalms were written in this gutsy and honest voice. Lament turns to God in pain, tells him why we are sad, asks for his help, and leads us to trust.
The morning after Tyler passed, I woke up early and wrote a lament. It was what my heart needed. I was really sad, and yet I knew that God is good. When I’m stuck between my tears and what I believe, lament is the language I need.
O Lord, we turn to you on this hard and painful day. We look to you, the author of life and the giver of grace, because our hearts are broken with grief. A young man, so full of life and joy, is gone.
We grieve the loss of Tyler.
How long, O Lord, must cancer steal our loved ones away? This evil disease doesn’t fit with your goodness. It mars, destroys, and kills. We hate its presence in the world.
Lord, we prayed for healing. And your answer is hard to accept. We watched our friend and brother persevere. Twenty years doesn’t seem long enough for Tyler. We long for the day when osteosarcoma is no longer a part of our vocabulary — or our prayers. We’d rather have a different ending to this story.
Yet we know that you have purposes beyond what we can see.
We witnessed glimpses of your plan in the meteoric rise of Tyler’s story. We marveled at the favor and the kindness showered upon him through his journey. We rejoiced at the platform you gave him to share his faith in Jesus.
Lord, we ask you to bring comfort to Tyler’s family. They’ve walked beside him through this journey. They need your grace both now and in the months and years to come.
We pray for wisdom and creativity for those researching the treatment for Tyler’s cancer. We ask that his donated tumor and the money raised might yield life-saving options for future cancer patients. Would you heal many from Tyler’s death?
But even more, Jesus, we ask for your name to be lifted high through Tyler’s life.
You were the bedrock of his strength. You were the one who captivated his heart and gave him hope as his physical strength declined. We pray that thousands — even millions — of people will be led to the kind of relationship that Tyler shared with you.
On this hard day, O Lord, we choose to trust you. We believe you have ordained eternal purposes that we can’t see right now. We believe you gave Tyler every grace he needed to persevere.
We believe Jesus rose from the dead so that one day our tears will be wiped away once and for all. Through our pain and questions, we rest our hope in the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). We know this was the strength that made Tyler strong. We saw it. Tyler lived it.
In Jesus’s name,
Tuesday in Glory
On Tuesday evening thousands will gather at our church for another paradoxical moment. We’ll mourn Tyler’s death and celebrate his life. We’ll do what Christians have done for centuries starting with the resurrection — we’ll weep and rejoice.
We’ll rehearse the gospel that provides hope. Tyler believed Good Friday led to Resurrection Sunday. He knew the power of the cross and the victory of the empty tomb. He often quoted his grandfather, who modeled faithfulness in his own battle with cancer: “If I live, I win. If I die, I win.”
Our gathering will display the glory of God through a 20-year-old who lived out the verse displayed on yellow wristbands and t-shirts worn in his honor: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
On Tuesday our lament will lead us to the hope of eternal life through Tyler’s Savior. And in so doing, we’ll see that the Grand Canyon is not the only place to behold the grandeur of God.