Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Sportswriter Jonathan Tjarks trusts God while battling cancer: 'Worrying about death does me nothing'

On April 26, The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks sent out a tweet with an announcement no 33-year-old would ever expect to make.

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After weeks of muscle pain, severe fatigue, fevers and trips to the hospital, Tjarks was diagnosed with cancer, later identified as a BCOR-CCNB3 sarcoma.

“I had never really thought about death before,” he wrote in a column about his cancer diagnosis last week. “I’m 33. I’m married and have a 1-year-old son. My whole life is supposed to be in front of me. I obviously knew I would die at some point. But that point, whenever it might be, seemed so far away that it might as well not have existed.”

The piece, titled “The Long Night of the Soul,” is Tjarks’ reflections on facing his own mortality as a Christian. He shares an analogy comparing life to a car headed toward a cliff. Billboards symbolizing society’s distractions line both sides of the road.

It’s not until the car reaches the cliff that it can see where it is going. That is when people start really thinking about death and the meaning of life.

“As a Christian, I felt like I was prepared for that moment,” he wrote. “But there’s nothing that can truly do that. It’s the long night of the soul. It’s a version of a well-known phrase that I often think of. I don’t care how strong your faith is. Staring into the abyss will make you question everything. I wish getting through it were as simple as quoting a few Bible verses and then going to bed.”

Tjarks, who joined The Ringer in March 2016 according to his LinkedIn profile, was raised in a secular household and did not come to faith until he was in his 20s and a coworker shared the Gospel with him. He told The Gospel Coalition he got “really into partying, drugs, looking for meaning in life in the world” before the conversation with the coworker.

While the general concept of Christianity made sense to Tjarks, he initially struggled to accept the existence of God.

“I was very much raised to believe in materialism, and the idea of Christianity seemed hocus-pocus,” he said in the interview with The Gospel Coalition. “But I respected the way my friend lived his life, and so I kind of looked into Christianity. I could get behind the idea of Christianity. But I couldn’t believe in a God.”

In addition to his work for The Ringer, Tjarks has a personal blog where he writes about the Bible. The blog has 66 posts dating back to 2016.

In his Ringer column last week, Tjarks shared an observation he made while recently reading the Bible.

“I don’t even think Jesus was ready,” Tjarks said. “That’s the first thing I noticed when I read the Gospels after my diagnosis.”

He then references Mark 14:32-36, when Jesus and His disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. Jesus cedes control to God, and Tjarks is trying to do the same.

“Worrying about death does me nothing,” Tjarks wrote. “All I can do is believe and have faith that there’s some point to all this. That God is watching after me and my family, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.”

More information on Tjarks’ battle with cancer, including ways to support his family, can be found here.

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