Sovereignty, Suffering, and Stewardship: A Conversation with Michael Kelley
A few weeks ago, I posted a reflection on one of the best books I read last year, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God by Michael Kelley. It’s the compelling story of his 2-year-old son’s diagnosis with leukemia and the three and a half years of chemotherapy that followed.
I read this book on vacation. It started out as leisure reading for me. But I was quickly caught up in the beauty and the pain of the story. Today, on the official release date of the book, I’ve invited Michael to the blog for a conversation about his book.
Trevin Wax: Tell us about the title of the book. Why were Wednesdays pretty normal?
Michael Kelley: The title comes from the fact that Joshua, starting at age 2, had chemotherapy at regular intervals but mostly on Wednesday. Chemotherapy affects different people in different ways, but Wednesday was always a good day for us. It took a while for the medicine to really get into his system. So Thursdays were bad; Fridays were worse. But Wednesdays were pretty normal.
Trevin Wax: You describe yourself as being a “professional Christian” when Joshua was diagnosed, and yet in reading the book, I know that your faith was profoundly affected by his treatment. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Michael Kelley: I think up until Joshua’s diagnosis, I had the luxury of looking at pain and suffering, which all of us hold in common, like a specimen in a biology lab. I was able to pick at it, dissecting how God’s love and sovereignty fit together. But then the world was turned upside down.
It’s interesting to me that though the Bible clearly puts forth both a sovereign and loving God, it doesn’t see a difficulty in reconciling those attributes with each other. I think there’s something pastoral about that approach. The Bible doesn’t hold up for us all the ins and outs of “why” people suffer; it instead presents us with the inevitable reality of suffering and yet holds out for us the great compassion of God. Maybe walking through pain is one of the means God uses to bring people not to complete understanding of His character but to a deeper appreciation of its fullness.
Trevin Wax: Each chapter combines the narrative of your family’s experience with great biblical truth. Did you think about how the truth applied to your situation while you were going through it, or was much of this theological reflection done in hindsight?
Michael Kelley: I think some of both really. I kept a journal throughout Joshua’s treatment, and I intended for it to be full of profound thoughts of great importance. But it slowly devolved into one-sentence prayers and pleas for enough grace to get through the day.
I suppose that this is one of the most remarkable ways that God grows us in our faith though. Often we don’t realize it’s happening. It’s only on looking back at the experience that we are able to see a glimpse of just how faithful He really was the whole time.
Trevin Wax: In my endorsement, I talked about how this book isn’t a sappy, sentimental story even though it has a happy ending. Do you agree with that assessment?
Michael Kelley: I do. Or at least I hope that’s how people see it. We’re certainly not sentimental about the story, and I don’t think God is either. Sentiment, on its own, is really a cheaper kind of emotion. I think God resonates with our pain at a much deeper level than mere sentiment.
Trevin Wax: Was this a difficult book to write? I imagine it would take a lot out of you to revisit those grueling years of suffering.
Michael Kelley: It was, but I also think it was therapeutic for me in a lot of ways. It helps me to process what’s going on inside me through the articulation of what’s going on inside me.
But also we feel really strongly that God, for whatever reason, has entrusted this experience to us in the same way He’s entrusted to us our talents, resources, and other gifts. So writing the book is an effort at trying to steward our experience well.