A Book Review by John Clark
This Christmas, I prayed to God: “I know that there are certain and special ways in which you want me to spiritually advance this Christmas. Please show me what they are.” During late December of last year, I read John Janaro’s book, Never Give Up: My Life and God’s Mercy, and I believe that this book was part of the answer to my prayer.
I feel compelled to mention at the outset that I personally know the author.
I first met John about thirty years ago, when I was about thirteen years old, and he was nineteen or twenty. (It was then that my family moved to Front Royal, and John was attending Christendom with my brothers Ken and Kevin.) Though we live in the same small town, I haven’t had too many conversations with him during that time (and certainly not enough).
Odd as it sounds, our friendship has been mostly baseball-related, as he and I share a profound love of the sport. Over the years, we’ve seen each other at Valley-League baseball games, where we talk for a few minutes and share our personal “scouting reports” on some of the players. I coached his son one summer. I invited him to sit in the dugout for a doubleheader when I coached the Christendom baseball team. But until I read this book, I never really knew him.
That was my loss. But I’m very glad that I read his book.
This is a book about marriage, friendship, suffering, love, and, as the title suggests: perseverance in the face of pain. It has something to teach us about all these things.
John has been suffering from a nearly crippling form of Lyme Disease that he first contracted in 1988. This has left him undergoing a significant amount of pain, which has left him unable to work at times. To make matters more difficult, John also has a chemical imbalance that produces an agonizing form of depression, which he has endured for a much longer period of his life. In his book, he spends considerable time explaining what it is like to suffer from this mental ailment. As he describes it:
“Scrupulosity, obsessive fears, overwhelming and paralyzing lack of confidence, and a morbid sense of worthlessness—all these have haunted me for as long as I can remember. Fear and a sense of self-loathing alternate with a brain freeze that makes me want to withdraw from all the things in life that I really like.”
It is passages such as these that make this book so much different from others about suffering that I have read. We read many accounts of those who physically suffer—but few of those that tell of mental and emotional suffering. And this unseen suffering can be much worse.
When I read the book, I kept thinking of my own father, an amputee, who spends much of the day in pain. When he needs help getting into a restaurant or putting his wheelchair into the trunk of his car, it’s easy to see why. But mental suffering is much different—it is not visual, and it is much harder for everyone to understand. When you can’t perform, few ask “why.” All too often, others write it off to laziness or some other vice. When someone suffers mentally, they often suffer in a very lonely place. John’s book reminds the reader of that, and he has a rhetorical talent for conveying what that is like.
For this reason, at first, some of John’s writing style might strike readers as awkward. It is written in a way that seems a bit random and staccato in parts. But after the first few pages, I quickly realized the genius of that style. That presentation is the best way to understand—and more importantly, appreciate—the nature of his suffering.
Writing about the thoughts that go through his mind, consider this passage.
I am no longer who I was. Is that really true?
I have no place to go today. And the day’s pain hasn’t really kicked in. Sit up. Assume some attitude of prayer. I shall collect myself before God.
I sit in a mind fog, like the darkness and void of the first day of Creation. Except I am slipping back into the void. Where is the light?
As this, and many other passages illustrate, this book was written so that others might understand the plight of those who suffer from mental disorders.
He also provides practical advice on help to help them, which is a great asset to the reader. For those who have friends and associates with such ailments, this book should be required reading. And you may know some yourself, without ever realizing it.
I have just spent the past few paragraphs describing a book about the mental and physical agony of a friend of mine. This must be one depressing book, right?
On the contrary, this is easily one of the most hopeful books I’ve ever read. This is the story of one man’s personal relationship with Jesus, and why that friendship makes all the difference. John’s daily struggle with pain gives hope to all of us—whatever our particular brand of suffering. On the road to salvation, some of us are hanging on by whatever we can find to grab onto; but we are still hanging on.
That is the life of a Christian. As John describes:
The point is that walking with Jesus is the truth; it is what constitutes the reality of my life. I do not always feel the truth of this, but I believe it. And as I walk with him—as I live this relationship with him—he strengthens my certainty; he builds up my life. He shapes within my soul the virtues of faith, hope, and love—making firm my conviction that he is with me on my path. If I stay with him, he will sustain me. This is what it means to live as a Christian. It means that I belong to Christ.
Belonging to Christ. That is our hope, regardless of the pain. That’s why we never give up.
Never Give Up: My Life and God’s Mercy is available in paperback and as an ebook through Amazon.