In an earlier post, I described how the ‘pre-cancer me’ had too many concerns, strong opinions, and preferences. I was living life poised to be disappointed at every turn. Disrupted travel plans, bad hair days and minor slights were all felt too deeply! It took metastatic cancer to bring more clarity, balance, and self-control to disappointment. I had gotten lazy, neglecting the hard work of self-examination, and taking control of my emotional reactions to disappointments. I like the new me, the metastatic me.
My current disappointments are few or less intense because there are less things of this world that mean that much to me. I am vacationing and being with family in St Augustine, Florida. I write positioned to see the smooth coastline, hear the waves breaking, smell the sea breeze, and feel the sun warm my brittle bones. So heavenly and peaceful. But I am feeling increasingly detached from this experience as well as many others that have given me pleasure. This does not feel like a bad thing as I’m experiencing more peace of mind than I have been accustomed.
Anhedonia is a mental condition which describes a pervasive lack of interest in those things that use to give pleasure and enjoyment. It is a core symptom of depression.
As a retired mental health therapist, I have asked myself whether I am experiencing a symptom of clinical depression. Certainly, cancer sufferers have more depression than others. No one would be surprised to hear I was struggling with depression. But I am not. I have received a blessing amidst existential suffering.
“Set your mind on things above and not on things on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden in Christ.” (Colossians 3)
…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame….consider this…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1b – 3)
Do not get me wrong, I feel pain, loss and sorrow. I am not cultivating a Buddhist mindset that sees all suffering originating from and sustained by human attachments. I WANT to be attached to those I love, and I want to enjoy the beauties all around me in this world. I am not numb to disappointments, rather I am having fewer of them because I’m learning through this disease what is ‘disappointment-worthy’.
There also seems to be a supernatural aspect to this ‘screening’ of life’s disappointments. I call this something, “training for eternal life”.
The apostle Paul in the letter to the church at Colossi exhorted the congregation “to set their affections on eternity with God.” Why? Because God wants to bless us. I am going to die, and you are going to die. So, as the author of Hebrews puts it, while we are enjoying this life it is a mercy to fix our eyes on Christ, the author, perfecter and finisher of our faith, and then we will not lose heart or grow weary as we soldier on, training to enjoy the eternal life ahead of us.
I can only think of one disappointment that would have devastating effects for me and for you. The absence of the presence of God due to unbelief or to poor teaching and training would make coping with incurable cancer unbearable.
Where do we go with this?
Continue to be disappointed, even heartbroken over the losses, travesties, and tragedies of life both for us, our loved ones, and for the countless, nameless sufferers throughout this broken world. To do so is to have the heart of God motivating us to call to out to Him for relief and rescue. But leave the disappointments from assaults on ego, the frustration of inconvenience, the slights and criticisms from others on the junk heap of the worthless and inconsequential.
Disappointments are not so bad if we allow them to whittle away at the vain and useless, and cling tenaciously to the grand promises of God – a future where God promises to make every injustice and injury right in the end! The scriptures say God promises that every tear will be wiped away; all tears, not just the tears of heartache and loss, but the tears of anger, frustration, and petty disappointment.
Can I get an Amen?