Hi there! I’m Zena, the editor at Fierce Marriage and Fierce Parenting. I read this excerpt from Gospelbound by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra and was so encouraged by it— this line in particular got me: “[My wife’s illness] is not some big distraction. This is not some huge detour. This is the path God has for us, and it leads somewhere good.” I hope you find it encouraging as well, whatever season you’re in.
Meet twins Alex and Brett Harris. They wrote Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations when they were teens themselves. Get up early, they told readers. Step out of your comfort zone. Do more than what’s required. Find a cause. Be faithful. Go against the crowd. Be better than your culture expects.
The Harris twins, then eighteen, were leading by example. They worked through the summer to finish their (homeschool) high school at sixteen, then clerked with the Alabama Supreme Court. They organized a statewide grassroots political campaign. They started a blog, launched the Rebelution movement (the website has more than forty-seven million page views), wrote their book (which has sold more than five hundred thousand copies), and spoke at conferences.
Doing hard things magnifies the worth of Christ
They didn’t slow down when they turned twenty. The twins enrolled at Patrick Henry College, took first place in the moot court nationals, and wrote another book. They dated and married their wives, cared for and buried their mother, and chose directions for their careers. Since then, God has taken Alex and Brett, now thirty-two, in starkly different directions that illustrate the Lord’s mysterious plans and purposes as he calls us to lay down our freedom and follow him.
“We do hard things, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved,” Brett told me (Sarah). “Our willingness to obey God even when it’s hard magnifies the worth of Christ, because in our hard obedience we’re communicating to the world that Jesus is more valuable than comfort, than ease, than staying safe.”
When you’re younger, the hard choices aren’t always big ones or always between right and wrong—opting to read rather than watch TV, to study rather than play video games, to join the debate team rather than the basketball team. But “doing hard things in one season prepares you to step into the next with momentum and purpose,” Alex said. Turns out, they both needed all the preparation they could get.
This is not some huge detour
Brett works with the Rebelution movement but has spent most of his time caring for his wife, Ana, who suffers from Lyme disease. Over the years they have moved multiple times searching for answers—including a long stint camping in the desert to detox from mold. Along with keeping track of doctors’ appointments and medical options, Brett cooked for her, bathed her, carried her up the stairs, and, during her sickest months, worked with her through the panic attacks induced by the bacterial infection in her brain.
Suffering with Ana sometimes got so bad that he just felt “utterly helpless,” Brett said. “And in that moment you either self-destruct or you throw yourself on God’s mercy. You cannot look intense suffering in the face without making the choice between faith and cynicism. It either hardens you or melts you.”
As Brett and Ana cried out to Jesus, they found freedom in accepting their life as it is for now. “This is not some big distraction. This is not some huge detour. This is the path God has for us, and it leads somewhere good. It could even be our defining moment.”
Prepared through hard things
God has not abandoned them. In fact, he has prepared Brett through the discipline of doing hard things. When their mother, Sono Harris, was diagnosed with cancer, Alex and Brett were sophomores in college. That summer, Brett was one of her primary caregivers. The difficult months he spent with her helped prepare him for caring for his wife. “You don’t choose what you’re going to bear down the road, and if you haven’t worked the muscle [of doing hard things], it’s going to crush you,” he said. “That’s what I see happening to many others.”
Sometimes exercising that muscle just plain wears you out. “Caretaking can make you weary, because you’re thinking, This is not what I wanted my life, my marriage, to be like,” Brett said. Ana’s pain has been excruciating, and staying on top of her treatment has been exhausting.
“I don’t want my wife to have to go through this,” he said. “I didn’t want to go through this. It’s easy to focus on the feeling that this is not the life I want, rather than on the reality that this is the life God has for me.”
My plan for my life is not as good as God’s plan
Remembering the story of Joseph—and God’s faithfulness over a lifetime—refocuses him. “Joseph’s story looked pretty bleak for a while, but God was working in his heart and preparing him for future service,” Brett said. “His story reminds me that my plan for my life is not as good as God’s plan.”
Loving Ana and laying down his life for her is obviously what God wants him to do, Brett said. “What keeps me going is knowing that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is not an interruption of God’s plan for my life. This is his plan for my life, at least for a season. And at the end of the day, I know this is what I will wish I had done.”
Faithfulness in small things
As an attorney, Alex also finds faithfulness in small tasks the most difficult. “The things people don’t praise you for, that don’t earn the same level of admiration from your peers, are harder, but those are usually the more important things,” he said. As a law student, a law clerk to Judge Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and now an attorney, Alex has had to make daily choices to prioritize time with his wife, Courtney, and their young daughter.
You can’t “do it all” and do a good job, he said. But you can do everything God has called you to do. And so far, the Harris brothers offer living proof.
“I feel like Alex’s and my stories thus far are two different testimonies to the power of doing hard things and rebelling against low expectations,” Brett said. “Alex is demonstrating the incredible momentum that you can have, and the level of competence and character that can be achieved, if you start pursuing them at a young age.”
Brett’s life, on the other hand, illustrates the need to do hard things in order to prepare for the brokenness of our world. “Quiet faithfulness, laying your life down daily for another person—that is what God calls us to as believers,” Alex said. “It’s incredibly hard, and it’s not glamorous, but it brings glory to God. And that’s exactly what Brett is doing.”
Both twins were ready because for years they’d been choosing to expect more of themselves for the sake of God and their neighbors. They know that God calls gospelbound Christians to give up their freedom so they can partake in his glory. And they find joy in his service.
Excerpted from Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age. Copyright © 2021 by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra. Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Collin Hansen is vice president of content and editor-in-chief for The Gospel Coalition, one of the most-read Christian websites in the world, and host of the acclaimed Gospelbound podcast. He travels the world promoting gospel-centered ministry for the next generation. For more information, visit: https://www.twitter.com/collinhansen
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition, where she oversees coverage of faith and work. Readers often rate her features on cutting-edge trends in religion and church leadership as TGC’s most popular and valuable content. For more information, visit: https://www.twitter.com/sarahezylstra
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