When my doctor called me into his office to explain I had cancer, my honest first reaction was, “Good.”
I didn’t say it out loud, but I suddenly felt relief that a master plan for my family’s provision was suddenly coming together. Our retirement nest egg could always be larger and, at age 55, here was a shot for “total security” by actually dying before my life insurance policy expired. In a flash, I pieced together the lifestyle benefits for my wife and three daughters. For the first time, I felt financially successful.
“When my doctor called me into his office to explain I had cancer, my honest first reaction was, ‘Good.’”
I told this story to other men and, in most cases, they related to my sentiments. But women, without exception, were horrified by my rationale. And the women were right. My thinking, though common to men, was twisted, with all the markings of idol worship and reliance on false gods. My doctor, also a friend, saw through my “spiritually-mature” assurance that I was not tied to this world, by saying, “Well, I was thinking about Beth and your kids.”
Exactly. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the trauma and heartbreak that would mark their lives forever if I died. I approached Beth about the clean symmetry of dying while the insurance policy was still in force. It didn’t go well.
“Do you really think a pile of insurance money could replace you?”
“Well . . . kinda . . . yes. I know it would be tough at first, but you and the kids would get over it — and then you’d be set for life!”
“We would never get over it. You are minimizing your value to us — and the impact of living without you.”
This conversation became a pivot point from which God began changing my mind and heart. I really believed a major payout would be a better outcome for my family than the alternative: living with what we had under God’s provision. Jesus talks directly against this kind of idolatry in the parable of the rich fool when he warns, “Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
I believed some common lies men are tempted to believe: that my job is to provide an abundance for my family, and if I leave my future provision up to Jesus, my quality of life will suffer. Or, gaining wealth is my job, so I’m excused for being a little detached on the marriage and family front.
“My children needed an engaged dad who still trusted the Lord’s hand.”
But the week I was lying in a hospital bed, on the edge of death, I was haunted at three o’clock in the morning by God’s rebuke which kept running through my mind, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you’” (Luke 12:20). Was I playing the fool? Honestly, what would be better: (1) living with our existing savings with God in charge of our provision, or (2) dying with a wad of cash left for my family?
The Lord would answer this question by transforming my soul through an unimaginable five years of suffering from lymphoma and a second near-death complication from a bone marrow transplant. It’s another story, but God placed his finger on the idols I could not overcome apart from his tailor-made suffering.
At first when I was sick, it didn’t seem like anyone actually needed me. Life went on. Everyone was busy. Yet, while I was counting the ways I no longer added value, and as I was planning on letting the insurance payout shepherd my family, my children needed an engaged dad who still trusted the Lord’s hand. It was that basic and pivotal. My wife needed me to value the family more than fearing the future. She needed to see my courage and sense of humor — to curb my cynicism — and to recognize God’s rescue was underway — even while we stood bewildered. My family needed me more than money, a lesson that I almost learned too late.
I now rehearse these truths to combat the lies I’m tempted to believe:
- It’s the Lord who gives the power to gain wealth — not me (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).
- God thinks I’m valuable. He knows what I need. He gave me the kingdom with no regrets (Luke 12:24, 28, 32).
- My job isn’t done when I merely provide financially.
- Less wealth doesn’t bring a fruitless life; false gods do.
- My loved ones need me — not my abundance.
Today, we continue to exercise those truths. Although I’m working again, our retirement portfolio is significantly drained due to high medical bills, three college students, and five years of unemployment while sick.
“The years of illness brought more losses than we could have imagined. Yet, it was the greatest season of my life.”
Those years of illness brought more losses than we could have imagined. Yet, it was the greatest season of my life. I would do it again for the changed life God provided. But it’s still hard. We’re concerned about our future, but not cynical. In Scripture, we see God’s character and his unwavering bent toward redemption for his children.
I always wanted to know what Jesus meant when he told the apostle Paul that his grace was sufficient for the suffering. I see it now for myself. It’s a strong and generous flow — no stingy trickle. Years ago, in the hospital, I clung to abundance for rescue. Today, I cling to him for rescue and would follow him anywhere, even with a small nest egg — as long as he’s leading. That’s what it means to live abundantly.