We did everything right, but God didn’t spare my husband. Now, when I hear of others’ miracles, I’m learning to respond with faith.
Twenty months ago, my healthy, “boring-health-history” husband, Jason, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. The kind that just shows up unexplained and not as a result of smoking. Ten months ago he passed away. He was 51 years old.
During our battle with cancer, my husband and I did all we could to exercise faith. We held fasts and prayed fervently for peace and for God’s will to be done. We attended the temple. Jason continued serving as the bishop of our ward. We kept a positive attitude and planned for the future. My husband even bought his dream truck and ordered a license plate that said “PSTIVTY.” We tried every treatment available and held a gratitude fast when we found a miracle drug that was supposed to target his specific cancer and extend his life. He died anyway.
Since my husband's death, I have struggled to attend church. I love my Savior and have felt Him carrying me through the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. I have faith in His plan and know that someday this will all make sense. But being at church is hard.
For example, on one of my first Sundays back at church after Jason’s death, a well-meaning speaker in sacrament meeting said he was healed of cancer because of the “faith and prayer of friends and family.” The next week someone shared that she was thankful for the Word of Wisdom because she knew she wouldn’t die “in her 50s of lung cancer” as her parent had. A few weeks later, in stake conference, several people shared their miraculous stories of healing, of lives saved. Thankfully, I was watching from home on Zoom where I could cry freely and without reservation.
During this difficult time, I’ve come to find much deeper meaning in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in Daniel chapter 3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to worship a golden image and as punishment were going to be thrown into a fiery furnace and burned alive. Before they are forced into the furnace, however, they bear their testimony that their God is able to deliver them, and then they make this powerful statement: “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up,” (Daniel 3:18, emphasis added).
We read later in the chapter that Shadrach, Meshack, and Abed-nego were delivered from their trial and saved from the flames—but my story didn’t end that way. Jason died, and I have to decide day by day how I will react now that I have to live out the “but if not” scenario. The reality is that sometimes our prayers aren’t answered in the way we desperately hope they will be. People die in spite of priesthood blessings, ward fasts, and unshakeable faith. While those situations are very difficult, I think we need to share those stories, too. We need to share our own “but if not” moments and learn from each other how to carry on faithfully when the miracles don’t come.
Here is the “but if not” side of my story: Jason lost his battle with cancer, and we miss him terribly. My future looks bleak and uncertain and scary without him in it. I wish he was still here on earth with me, but I will remember the miracles I saw in the days preceding his death. I will remember when I have felt angels bearing me up, and when I have had strength beyond my own. I will continue to have faith in God’s plan—for both my husband and for me. When I doubt or wonder, I will reflect on the many times I have felt God’s love in my life and have faith that He will not leave me comfortless. I will study and apply the promises of covenant Israel in my life. I will continue to do everything I can to create an atmosphere where I can feel peace.
After my husband died, I saw a quote on social media that I later learned came from an April 2011 Ensign article: “When someone has an ailment or an illness and they are healed as a result of a blessing, their faith is being strengthened. But for those who aren’t healed, but continue faithful, their faith is being perfected. The first is a faith-promoting experience. The second is a faith-perfecting experience.” Those words gave me hope that something good could come from this experience, maybe something even better than what I was pleading for. The idea that this heartbreaking experience could help me obtain perfect faith was remarkable to me. I was also comforted by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s quote, “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss.”
Given the choice, most of us would probably choose the faith-promoting experience over the faith-perfecting experience—it’s far less painful. But if perfect faith is our goal, we will undoubtedly need to pass through some “but if not” experiences.
I’m still working on perfecting my faith. I’m still working on gathering the courage to stay for all of my church meetings. I’m genuinely happy for those who receive miraculous healings, and I am learning to find the miracles in my own spiritual healing.
When President Russell M. Nelson invited us to let God prevail, I believe he was asking us to give our will to God and learn to have faith in Him always, especially when it comes to the moments of “but if not.”