Can I Build a Resilient Faith for a Resilient Life? With Jay Hewitt [Episode 295]

Build Resilient Faith Jay Hewitt Ironman

Free download alert! Get your “God’s Grace Is Sufficient for Me” printable in the links below.

After a devastating brain cancer diagnosis, today’s guest, Pastor Jay Hewitt, had a decision to make: Should he give up on his faith or practice what he preached and trust that with God, all things are possible?

Well, if he’s on the 4:13, you know the decision he made! But what he did and how he did it will inspire you and teach you how you can face hard things too.

Faith in action for Jay included competing in an IRONMAN triathlon while undergoing cancer treatment. Incredible, right? Well, today he shares what he learned as he trained and competed, including the counterintuitive wisdom of strength in weakness and the importance of embracing our vulnerability.

And don’t worry… You won’t be expected to sign up for an IRONMAN as soon as this episode ends.

We’re not all called to compete in an IRONMAN, but we are all called to what it represents: resilience! And Jay’s story will help you see that it’s possible to live with resilience in the face of any trial.

So, get ready to unleash that superpower, because the same power God put in Jay is the power He’s placed in you! It’s Christ’s power that gives you strength, so even when you are weak, through Christ you are strong.

Meet Jay

Jay Hewitt is a pastor, author, and motivational speaker whose life journey is an awe-inspiring testimony of courage and faith. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at age 37, he found strength through God, embracing his purpose as a storyteller. In his memoir, I Am Weak, I Am Strong, Jay shares his extraordinary quest to become an IRONMAN while battling cancer. He lives in Orange County, California with his wife and daughter.

[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Build a Resilient Faith for a Resilient Life? With Jay Hewitt [Episode 295]

Jay Hewitt: I got this crazy idea, what if I did a full distance Ironman Triathlon? That's 140 miles. What if I did that while I was going through grueling cancer treatment? And I thought that's insane. I'm not a triathlete. That's not on my bucket list to do something that extreme. But I thought what if I put that Scripture to the test? When I'm at my weakest, what if I attempt something that I never dreamt that I could do even at my best?

Jennifer Rothschild: After a brain cancer diagnosis, today's guest, Jay Hewitt, had a decision to make. Should he give up on faith or should he practice what he preached and trust that with God all things are possible? Well, if he's on The 4:13 today, you know the decision that he made. But what he did and how he did it, oh, my goodness, it's going to totally bless you and inform how you can face hard things too.

Faith in action for Jay included competing in an Ironman Triathlon while he was going through cancer treatment. His race was a call to resilience for all of us. So get ready to unleash your superpower. It's the same power that God put in Jay. He's put it in you also. It is Christ in you even when you are weak. Because of Christ, you are strong. So get ready. Let's do it. K.C.'s coming up.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you and I up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you supernaturally.

Now, welcome your host, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: (Singing) Hello. Hello. I'm wearing my Lionel Richie shirt again.

K.C. Wright: (Singing) Is it me you're looking for?

Jennifer Rothschild: Is it me you're looking for? Yes. So I have to sing the word "Hello."

We're glad you're with us. This is Jennifer. And our goal here at The 4:13 is just to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you're living the "I Can" life. I can't think of a guest who more perfectly embodies our mission than Jay Hewitt, and you're going to be so amazed by his story. Cancer treatments, chemo, and an Ironman at the same time, it almost just doesn't seem possible. But it's a picture of what perseverance and resilience can look like. So we're going to talk about that.

But I got to be honest, when I was having this conversation with him, K.C., I'm thinking, Really? You did an Ironman? Like, I can't even run to the refrigerator fast enough when my blood sugar is low. Like, what in the world?

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: Just an incredible story.

But I know, K.C., you've been trying hard to -- you know, you've stuck with your CrossFit. You're doing that. And you know I'm an on-again, off-again, so I've been on an off-again mode.

K.C. Wright: Okay. All right.

Jennifer Rothschild: And I cannot tell you -- there's something about aging that is just not fair. Okay, can we just all acknowledge this? You little youngers out there, enjoy that flat stomach while you have it. Come on.

K.C. Wright: Oh, please, enjoy. I need you to really enjoy your youth. Okay? If you're under the age of 30, I need you to savor it.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's right.

K.C. Wright: And if you're a dude and you still got hair, I mean, just run your fingers through your hair right now.

Jennifer Rothschild: Pet yourself. You'll love --

K.C. Wright: Pet yourself.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, just pet yourself on the top of your head and be like, Thank you, Lord, for all these follicles, in Jesus' name. It's something. It is something.

But the principle that we're going to hear today, you know, you may think, well, that's unattainable. The principle of what Jay is talking about is not unattainable, because we can do all things through Christ. So whatever perseverance and resilience looks like for you, that's what you can do through Christ.

So I think you're really going to enjoy our conversation with Jay. I loved it. So let's introduce him.

K.C. Wright: Jay Hewitt is a pastor, author, and motivational speaker whose life journey is an awe-inspiring testimony of courage and faith. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 37, he found strength through God, embracing his purpose as a storyteller. In his book "I am Weak, I Am Strong," Jay shares his extraordinary quest to become an Ironman while battling cancer. Jesus Christ -- Christ is the big C over cancer, by the way.

Jennifer Rothschild: Amen.

K.C. Wright: Jay lives in Orange County, California, with his wife and daughter.

This is going to be a powerful talk. Here's Jay and Jennifer.

Jennifer Rothschild: Jay, I'm really glad you're with us. And your story is very compelling, so let's just do this. Let's start right here. Let's step right into your story at the point that you got a diagnosis that, quite honestly, I dread, I think most people dread. So tell us what happened. Let's start your story there.

Jay Hewitt: Yeah. I think everybody, like you said, they dread hearing those three words: "You have cancer." And then, just to turn up the dial a little bit, I also heard the next three words: "It is terminal." And how do you respond to that? Well, what I did is I took my young daughter to preschool, I dropped her off, and then I went to Dunkin' Donuts.

Jennifer Rothschild: I think that's good.

Jay Hewitt: Yeah. I got some saturated fat and I sat in the parking lot and I prayed the two most important prayers I've ever prayed in my life. I prayed, "Lord, what are you doing? What are you doing?" And he actually answered me. And it's only been a handful of times in my life where the Lord has spoken to me. Not an audible voice, but just as Jesus promised. The Holy Spirit spoke to me through reminding me of Jesus' teaching. And so I was taken to 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the Holy Spirit just ministered to my heart and said, "My grace is going to be sufficient and my power is going to be perfected in weakness."

And so my heart then was just convinced, just like the Apostle Paul was convinced in that moment when the spirit of Jesus revealed that to him, and I just thought, okay. Well then, when I'm weak, then I'm strong. And I had this sense that Jesus was going to teach me the meaning of weakness, the meaning of strength, and what it truly looks like for his power to be demonstrated through my weakness. So I prayed that prayer, "God, what are you doing?" He spoke, he revealed.

And then I prayed my next prayer, "How can I join you? Lord, how can I join you in this? If you want to demonstrate your power through my weakness, how can I join you?" And I can't claim to say that I heard the Lord's voice again. This was a little more of a nudge from the Holy Spirit. We can call it a leading from the Holy Spirit. I got this crazy idea. What if I did a full distance Ironman Triathlon? That's 140 miles. What if I did that while I was going through grueling cancer treatment? And I thought that's insane.

Jennifer Rothschild: Crazy.

Jay Hewitt: I'm not a triathlete. That's not on my bucket list to do something that extreme. But I thought, what if I put that Scripture to the test? When I'm at my weakest, what if I attempt something that I never dreamt that I could do even at my best? And so that's where I left off. And I went inside, after getting back from the donut shop, and I pitched it to my wife, thinking she was going to shoot that right down. But she said, "I think there's something to that, Jay. I think you should do it."

And then I met with my pastor -- now, I'm a pastor myself. And you've got to have good pastors to pastor you that are outside of your church. And I've got one of those. So I called up Pastor Joe and I said, "Hey, what do you think? Is this crazy?" And he said, "No. I think you should do it." And so that's where the story kind of starts.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. Like, so many things about that literally are crazy. Okay? And awesome and beautiful and hard. And I love that so much happened over a Dunkin' donut, because that just gives all of us hope where the Lord speaks.

But, okay, here's the thing, Jay. Let me just get a couple details clear here. Okay? So I know you're a pastor. You said you took your daughter to preschool. So you were a young man when you got this diagnosis. Was there cancer in your family?

Jay Hewitt: No, no. It was a complete surprise. I was healthy, I felt good. Out of nowhere I had a seizure, and that's what got me into my doctor's office. And the tests were ran and that's how it was discovered that I had a brain tumor.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. Wow. All right. And we're going to get a little bit more into the Ironman, but let's pause for a minute. Because you mentioned you were a pastor. And I love -- because my dad is one, was one. He's in Heaven. But, yes, every pastor needs a good pastor. Good word right there.

But I am curious for you personally as a pastor, you know, you find yourself in this very defining moment with the diagnosis. Okay? So was it difficult for you -- or maybe I should just say it this way. How did you reconcile living out the principles that you had been preaching with the challenges that you were facing? Was there any angst there, or was that seamless?

Jay Hewitt: Yeah. No, absolutely. But if I rewind in my life a little bit, my father passed away very suddenly when I was in my twenties, and that's where the real wrestling with God happened in my life. It didn't make sense to me. You know, why would he take my dad at such a prime time in his life? Jesus came to give life and life abundant, why was I hurting so badly? You know, why do bad things happen to good people? All of those things happened 15 years before this diagnosis, and I really wrestled with God. Literally went out to the desert, fasted, prayed, and had a wrestling match with God, and that's where he convinced me that even when we're going through hard times, even when we're suffering, he's there with us. And when we ask the question -- and I talk about this in my book. When we ask the question why, Jesus responds, "Me too."

And so at the point that I had this diagnosis, I had matured in my faith to know, okay, if I'm following Jesus, a man who suffered a lot, who knew suffering, I shouldn't expect that I'm going to be free from suffering. However, when I suffer, I know that Jesus not only has experienced that, can empathize with me, but he's there with me.

And so, yes, of course, there's a knee-jerk reaction, when you get news of that magnitude, to wrestling and blame and, "Why me, God? Why me?" But at the same time, where else would I turn? Where else would I turn? And so I just kind of instantly turned to Jesus, only because of the wrestling that I had already been through earlier in life.

Jennifer Rothschild: You know, that's a really good word and a good reminder for us. Because that horrible loss and tragedy God used as mercy in disguise, preparing you to mature you and to show you his empathy and compassion and companionship already. So I do think that speaks a lot to how you were able to manage this.

Okay. So you -- this is what's interesting. You're going through this spiritual challenge, of course, because there's always going to be that, and it's a physical challenge. I can't imagine what the treatments were like. And this is when you decide to do Ironman, which is physically grueling. So how was that? Like, when you are getting treatment and when you are training and when you -- what was that like?

Jay Hewitt: Oh, my goodness. It was intense and definitely something that I couldn't do on my own strength. So I had just recovered from brain surgery just enough that my doctor said, "Okay, you can now start radiation and chemotherapy." And so on the first day of radiation and chemotherapy, I ran one mile. And the first day I woke up and I prayed, "God, give me strength." And I prayed that every single day.

But I'm telling you, man, running marathon lengths, biking 112 miles, swimming two and a half miles, that is not easy to do on anyone's body. But when you're going through something that intense, it is hard not only to put your body through that, but also to find the -- I don't know -- drive --

Jennifer Rothschild: Motivation, yeah.

Jay Hewitt: -- to get up and -- yeah, and get after it again. That is not easy to do.

Jennifer Rothschild: No, I cannot imagine, because you're working against every natural instinct which says rest, recover, protect. And so I can see how God could use that. You really were operating in your weakness and seeing a strength that was beyond you.

Jay Hewitt: Absolutely.

Jennifer Rothschild: So I think it's an interesting -- it's so counterintuitive, I guess, is what I'm saying. And one of the themes that's throughout your book, it's this theme of resilience and how it empowers you even now. It's woven throughout your whole book.

But there's another theme in your book that I think is interesting. You also talk about the importance of embracing vulnerability. Okay? So talk about that for us.

Jay Hewitt: One of the things that I say in the book is that not admitting weakness is a weakness in itself. If we want to pretend like we're strong when we're not, we miss out on the power that the Holy Spirit offers. It's not until we say, "I am vulnerable, I am weak, I don't have what it takes and I need help." That's when the Holy Spirit enters in. That's when we position ourselves for the Holy Spirit's power. And not only the Holy Spirit, but God's church. That's when you're able to open yourself up to God's church coming around you to help carry you, to help carry the burdens that you're carrying. And to be honest, as a pastor, I really struggled with that. You know, I'm in this very public position, but when I'm that vulnerable, I wanted to hide.

And I remember early on, it was early on, I was going in for testing, trying to figure out exactly what was going on, and this older woman in the church, she texted me and said, "God put you on my heart. I'm praying for you. Is there anything I can pray for you for?" And I remember thinking, oh, man, no, not this text right now. But I prayed and I thought, you know what? I need to let her know as a step towards opening myself up to this vulnerability and letting people in. And so I texted her back and I said, "Thanks for your faithfulness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Yes, please pray. I'm trying to figure out what God is doing right now in my health. I'm in a neurologist's office and I'm scared. Please pray for me." And that changed everything for me.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, it was brave, it was humble, it was Christlike, and I can only imagine what it did for that lady.

I think that's the thing, Jay, too, about our choosing to be vulnerable. It does bless us and it ushers in this strength of the Lord and the strength of community, but it also does something for the people who we choose to be vulnerable in front of. Did you see how your vulnerability impacted your church family?

Jay Hewitt: Absolutely. You know, as God continues to use his grace to sustain my life, people are seeing the miracles of God and God is getting a lot of glory. But everyone that has prayed for me is now involved in this work of God, and they are now getting to see firsthand what God is doing because they're a part of it. I'm not just some guy. But as people are praying for me, they're in it with me and their faith is being strengthened.

Jennifer Rothschild: So what would you say -- let's put on your pastor hat for a minute. There's somebody listening, and maybe they've gotten a difficult diagnosis. Or maybe they have one of those invisible diagnosis, they're battling depression. And nobody knows and they don't want anybody to know because they're embarrassed or ashamed or just feel uncomfortable with the weakness that it represents in their minds, you know, that they may feel it represents. It is not a weakness. I don't want to be misunderstood. How would you coach them to take that first step of vulnerability, and what do they need from the Lord to be able to do such?

Jay Hewitt: Yeah, I would take them right back to the Scripture that the Holy Spirit took me to, to 2 Corinthians 12:10, and I would tell them it's when you're weak, then you're strong. It's when. When you're weak, that's when you're strong. And so if you're feeling weak right now, there is such an opportunity of strength right in front of you, and you have to hold on to the hope of Jesus. You hold on to that hope, put your feet on the ground, and you get up. And in that motion of putting your feet on the ground and getting up, that is a declaration of trust. And you will feel the strength of God's Holy Spirit, the power of God's Holy Spirit working in you so that you can stay strong and you can press on. But the first thing that you need to do is admit that you are weak, and not see that as a weakness, but see that as a strength. Because God delights -- he delights in displaying his power through us. So I think the first step is in that internal spiritual realm.

And then the second step is letting people know. It's letting people know and get into what you're going through and to say, "I need help. Will you help me through this?"

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. And for a lot of people, that's very hard, to say, "I need help," especially for someone like you who is in the helper role.

You know, I remember one time, Jay, listening to the story for the millionth time of the Good Samaritan being read. I was in a Bible study class. And I was trying to engage with it and so I was trying to put myself in each character. Well, am I the priest? Am I the Levite? Have I allowed my religion to be a substitute for true compassion? You know what I mean. I was going through every character. And I remember as the story was finished being read, I thought, well, what in the world, I'm not in this story. And then it was as if the Lord just reminded me, no, you are. You're the broken man on the side of the road who needs help. We're all that broken man. And there is a strength and a humility in just saying, Hey, we all need help, and so let's be that for each other.

I appreciate your book. I appreciate your story. You know, you even talk about how that weakness, which is just what you explained, is the genesis for true strength. So I'm curious now on this side of the cancer battle, on this side of the Ironman, do you define strength differently than you did before all this happened?

Jay Hewitt: Absolutely. Now, the difficulty is -- people have asked me if I had a definition for strength. And I don't. There's no way -- this is what I've learned. There's no way to put strength into a one-sentence definition because it is so wide and it is so deep and it is so spiritual and from the power of Jesus that you can't just give it a one-sentence definition. And so I wrote out 22 -- I call them Proverbs of strength and weakness. And I didn't know what I was going to do that, and so we put it in the appendix of the book. But let me just give you a couple of them.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Jay Hewitt: Strength is forged in the flames of adversity. Strong people still stumble, and strength comes from the struggle. Strength is heard in a simple authentic prayer. Answered prayers provide power. Strength is renewed by grace. Grace is powerful enough to satisfy the soul in times of suffering. And on and on and on. And these lessons are only learned by passing through the fire with Jesus by your side.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's so good. And I appreciate that you didn't reduce strength to a formula. Because sometimes we're so geared to, okay, Jay just told me the formula, I'm going to go do it, and that defeats the whole purpose of it being Christ's strength in us. That's really good, my brother.

Okay, I'm going to have one more question for you. Before I ask that one, though, I just want to ask you this. While you were going through brain cancer -- you had a wife and a daughter, is that correct?

Jay Hewitt: That's correct, yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right. And I'm not asking you to say anything that would be unkind, of course. But is there anything that now you have learned, hmm, if I know somebody's going through brain cancer, or they're married to someone who is, or any kind of cancer, I know that I would not want them to say such and such, or I know that I would have preferred to hear them say such and such or not to do such and such or to do such and such. Can you coach us as to know how to love somebody and their family well when they're going through this?

Jay Hewitt: Yes. Okay, I'm going to preface this by saying I have come to a point where I've just decided no matter what anyone says to me, I'm just going to look straight through those words and see a heart that wants to love me and wants to support me.

Jennifer Rothschild: Good word.

Jay Hewitt: People can say stupid things to me, and although it's not awesome, we'll still see the love behind it.

But probably the hardest ones for me to hear -- you know, early on -- okay, this just came to mind. Early on, a friend of mine, who's in ministry, told me to die well. Can you imagine that? He looked at me like a martyr -- I don't know. Like I'm in Braveheart or -- I don't know. But he told me to [indecipherable]. And I just said, "Brother, that is not helpful."

Jennifer Rothschild: No, no, no, no.

Jay Hewitt: But that's extreme. Nobody's actually going to say that --

Jennifer Rothschild: Right, right, right.

Jay Hewitt: -- except that one weird dude. But there's plenty of weird people in the world.

But the other thing that people often tell me is they tell me about diet. They say, Hey, my uncle did this, my uncle did this, and he was cured because of this diet. And, yeah, diet is very important. And I have a strict regimen, of course. But these kind of miracle cures, it's very similar to a get-rich-quick scheme. And so those aren't very helpful.

But I think the thing that's most helpful for me is just when people let me know that I'm in their heart, that they care. I'm thinking about you all the time, wanted to check in and see how you're doing. Love you, praying for you. That's it. That's pretty simple.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's good. Yeah, that's good.

You know, it's interesting -- I happen to be blind, Jay. And there's so many -- I'm glad you said that about how you choose to look straight to the heart no matter what they say. I have learned that also. And that is the way we honor Christ. But believe me, I've heard many -- the diet that would cure my blindness, and so far not yet. But that's okay. There'll be a heavenly one someday that I'm sure take care of all of it.

Jay Hewitt: Oh, yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: So your book is so meaningful. And what I love about it, it is quite an encouragement. It is not a here's how you get cured and here's how you get through it; it's a here's who Christ is when you're in your weakest. And it's a beautiful paradigm, it really is.

We're going to get to our last question here, though, Jay. So you've answered this in several ways, but I'm still going to ask it again. I'm curious if you had to sum it up -- okay? -- how has brain cancer changed your perspective on faith? And maybe it hasn't. Or maybe I should say how has it refined your perspective on faith and resilience? And then knowing that, how can you tell us? You know, how can you help us to make our weaknesses become like these teachers so that we can also grow in faith and resilience?

Jay Hewitt: Well, let me do this. Let me take you to the Ironman finish line.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Jay Hewitt: So 14 hours of struggle. And there's many times in this race that I thought I wasn't going to finish. But I did it. I made it to the finish line and my wife and daughter were there. And that's where I set out to finish what I was called to do. I got down on one knee in front of my daughter and I said to her, "Honey, God is going to put dreams in your heart. Do not be surprised when life knocks you down, when your enemy comes against you and tries to steal those from your heart, but hold on to the hope of Jesus. Get up in his power, stay strong and press on, and anything is possible. If I can do it, you can do it."

And that's the message that not only do I want to tell my daughter, I want to tell the world that, because that's what's necessary. When life hits you hard, you're going to want to let go of your hope in Jesus. You're going to want to feel betrayed by Jesus. But if you just hold on to that hope, he's the one that supplies the power to get up, to stay strong and press on. Because it is not easy to finish the race of our faith, to fight the good fight and to keep the faith. But if we hold on to the hope of Jesus, that's the power that we need.

K.C. Wright: Our friends, you can finish the race. I can finish the race. We all can because we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. You knew that verse was coming, didn't you?

Well, you also can get Jay's book at our Show Notes at And you can also read a transcript of this conversation there too. So go to the Show Notes.

K.C. Wright: You may be in a big battle right now, a tough race. But remember, you're not alone, God is with you, we are cheering you on, and you can take the next step. You can grow in resilience because you can do all things through Christ who gives you supernatural strength. I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

Jennifer and K.C.: And you can.

K.C. Wright: Now, I'm not talking about CrossFit all the time because I hate, I despise, I loathe CrossFitters who talk about being in CrossFit all the time.

Jennifer Rothschild: I know. Amen.

K.C. Wright: But, you know, I do this CrossFit with these 20-year-olds, you know, who have muscles in their earlobes. Like, literally their little earlobes bench pressing. One, two, three, Anyway...

But I'm reminding Nick and all these guys, you know, on a weekly basis, Hey, bro, hey, bro, remember, way over 40. Okay?

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, you are, K.C.

K.C. Wright: These are way over 40-year-old knees.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. So chill it out, people.

K.C. Wright: But here's what's so interesting. You know, we'll go in and, you know, they'll ask you, "Hey, are you hurting anywhere?" "Oh, yeah. My back, my knee." Well, you think that those will be the places that you should avoid during this workout. Oh, no. No. Those are the very places we target in our workouts, and then after an hour the pain's gone.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. See, right there. --

K.C. Wright: It's true.

Jennifer Rothschild: It is. That's a good picture of what Jay was talking about.

K.C. Wright: So you have more pain when you're sitting and doing nothing. You got to keep moving.

Jennifer Rothschild: Keep moving.

K.C. Wright: Keep showing up.


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