by Steve & Sharol Hayner
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 159 pages
REVIEWED BY KRISTIN STROBLE
In life and in death we belong to God.” This opening line of “A Brief Statement of Faith” has been voiced at hospital bedsides, prayed during Sunday worship and affirmed at funerals witnessing to the resurrection. In this book, Steve and Sharol Hayner teach and show us what it looks like to live into this affirmation.
Steve Hayner, while serving as president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, received the devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Embarking on a journey of hospitals, chemotherapy, small victories and tough decisions, Steve and his wife Sharol shared their experiences using the CaringBridge website. “Joy in the Journey” compiles these blog posts along with reflections from their friends and family.
Conversations about death and dying are often avoided in our culture. “Joy in the Journey” pushes us to embrace death as part of life and to face it with honesty and vulnerability. Written by two ministers and teachers, this small book invites readers to glimpse the challenges and grace found in dying. From the first diagnosis to Steve’s final hours, the Hayners share their ups and downs, prayers and reflections, and an ever-abiding faith and hope.
More then just a book about death, Steve and Sharol Hayner teach us how to embrace life as disciples of Christ. Sharol writes that it is by following Jesus every day — “every normal, mundane day” — that prepares one “for these tumultuous days.” In the face of death, the Hayners choose to live each day with thanksgiving, love and joy.
Anyone who knew Steve Hayner could attest to the joy that marked his very being. He was the man who always signed his notes “joyfully.” The hospitality, discipleship and love that marked the Hayners’ lives and ministry fill the pages of this book. Steve and Sharol teach us how to trust and how to grieve, that joy is not found in our circumstances, but as Steve says, “is dependent on who I am and how I am loved.” They show us that each day we can search and find grace, choose to live into God’s call and practice a life of attentiveness and gratitude.
“Joy in the Journey” is a book to be savored slowly, read and reread, to be given to friends and family, to be a guide on the journey of life and death. As I read this book I found myself on a journey of my own. Through these vulnerable and hope-filled words, I caught myself smiling and crying, giving thanks and questioning, reflecting on those in my life who are struggling with cancer, and remembering Steve and his teaching and joy.
This book is a gift for all of us who struggle to follow Christ in the midst of life and death. Steve, in one of his reflections includes the poem, “The Ripple.” It ends with the lines
“Our lives do ripple then recede.
Though often unaware, we hope
for good and cast our lives
to things and those we love.
And pray the ripple grows and goes.”
Through this book, Steve’s life continues to ripple and ripple, teaching us to live joyfully even in the midst of pain and to trust that “in life and in death we belong to God.”
KRISTIN STROBLE is the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio, and a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary.