Physical therapy has been going well, and my kneecap has pretty much returned to its regularly scheduled location. I have my follow-up blood test for cancer/chemo soon, so that’s all up in the air a bit, which seems to be a theme for me right now.
I try really hard to be honest when I post here, which leads to me not posting sometimes because I don’t want to admit how hard things are for me. But here’s the truth: the past month has been incredibly difficult. A lot of circumstances have contributed to my depression being significantly worse lately.
All I can say is, thank God for my family. They’re pretty much the greatest family ever. If you don’t know them, you should. In what I suspect was a coordinated strategy to cheer me up, they agreed to spend New Year’s Eve playing Settlers of Catan AND watching several hours of the BBC adaptation of Bleak House, “Just to take the nerd level up to 11,” as my brother said.
You see, the continuous “No, we don’t want to hire you” rejection of job hunting and recently coming to terms with the very realistic possibility that my cancer may keep me from having my own family have joined forces with the anxiety of being unemployed to produce a deep, fearful loneliness within me, with some unfortunate tendencies towards self-pity.
Growing up in the church and going to a Christian college, I’ve heard over and over and apparently internalized to some extent the idea that if you do what is right, happy things will happen to you. In the words of my wise mother: “Tell me where it says that in the Bible. That’s a lie we tell ourselves for comfort.” The tricksy thing about that sort of comfort is that it quickly falls apart when you have cancer, no job, and depression.
If you do the right thing, good things won’t necessarily happen.
As part of my annual Middle-earth journey, I’m currently (it’s taking me a while) reading The Lay of Leithian by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s an epic poem that Tolkien was writing during his time at Oxford, and it’s the story of two of his greatest characters, Beren and Lúthien.
At one point, Beren and Lúthien are swanning around together having adventures and whatnot, specifically trying to recover a very important gemstone, a Silmaril, from Morgoth, who is roughly five hundred times worse than Sauron. On these adventures, they meet a bad elf, Curufin, who tries to kill Lúthien by stampeding his horse over her. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Beren, so he fights Curufin and wins.
Lúthien asks Beren not to kill Curufin because she says that’s what Morgoth wants: Elves and Men fighting each other instead of him. And Beren listens to her. So instead of killing him, Beren takes Curufin’s horse and chainmail and dagger because that’s how chivalry works, evidently. If you don’t kill the guy, he gives you stuff.
This is where I got chills in my reading. This is how the dagger is described in the poem:
“Iron like softest wood it cleft,
and shining mail like woven weft.”
I was literally dancing around and clapping like a seal when I read this, because a.) I’m a nerd, and b.) Tolkien is a genius.
Spoiler: This is the dagger Beren uses to cut the Silmaril out of Morgoth’s iron crown!
But that’s not even the best part. Here are the steps in chronological order:
- Beren spares Curufin’s life and gets his dagger.
- Beren uses the dagger to retrieve the Silmaril.
- That Silmaril, through another wonderful sequence of events, becomes Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope.
- Galadriel gives a phial of the light of Gil-Estel to Frodo, and he and Sam use it to defeat Shelob and enter Mordor.
Decisions can have far-reaching consequences, and from Frodo’s vantage point, sparing Curufin was clearly the right thing to do. But what happens immediately after makes the mercy of Beren and Lúthien seem unwise: Curufin shoots Beren with a poisoned arrow and Beren almost dies. Normal logic says that Beren should have killed Curufin because he tried to kill Lúthien, but Tolkien directly associates that logic with Orc-thinking. “Do not do the work of Orc abhorred,” Lúthien says. So Beren lets Curufin live, and gets shot with a poisoned arrow for his trouble.
Math is not my best subject, but I know that the equation is not Good Decisions = Happy Results.
I have to remind myself of this often. Lots of bad things might happen. Even if I’m diligent and dedicated, I might be unemployed for many more months (I pray not, very hard. Unemployment is the worst. But even unemployment has this unexpected blessing: it has deepened my compassion and understanding for others). Even if I follow every instruction, this whole cancer thing might get worse. Even if I pray really hard and learn to fling myself wholeheartedly into the arms of Christ daily, I might struggle with depression for the rest of my life.
There’s no promise that if you let a bad guy live, he won’t shoot you with poisoned arrows. There’s no promise that if you shoot a good guy with poisoned arrows, you die an immediate terrible death. But it matters. The fall of Morgoth (and Sauron) is tied to Beren’s decision to act like a Man or act like an Orc, that is, to act as Eru created him, or to act as Morgoth corrupted Eru’s creation.
Beren listens to the wise counsel of Lúthien and spares his enemy, and the Silmaril he reclaims thereby becomes a star of hope, a promise for deliverance.
There are no promises that I won’t have complications or that it won’t hurt. There isn’t even a promise that cancer will be the worst thing I ever have to go through. There isn’t a promise that the car will work, the job will be found, the loneliness will be eased.
Here is the partial (there were a lot. I went for one example of each of the main ones that is repeated over and over) result of a quick word search:
- “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” –Luke 1:68-75
- “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” –Psalm 119:76-77
- “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” –Acts 13:23
- “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” –Luke 24:49
He has visited and redeemed us. We are called to righteousness regardless of how long it takes for the results of our faithfulness to be shown. We are called to righteousness regardless of whether or not we’re happy. Poison arrows and chemotherapy cannot negate what God has promised us, more powerful than a happy ending on earth.
He promised His Son and His Spirit. He promised His steadfast love, and the blessing of serving Him without fear. All our days. To be as He created us to be.
Even on my darkest day, the hope of what He has promised is as potent as a phial of starlight.
”Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” –Psalm 119:49-50