From a letter to Mary Van Deusen dated April 10, 1959
I know all the different ways in which [misdiagnosis of terminal illness] gets one: wild hopes, bitter nostalgia for lost happiness, mere physical terror turning one sick, agonised pity and self-pity. In fact, Gethsemane. I had one (paradoxical) support which you lack—that of being in severe pain myself. Apart from that what helped Joy and me through it was 1. That she was always told the whole truth about her own state. There was no miserable pretence. That means that both can face it side-by-side, instead of becoming something like adversaries in a battle-of-wits. 2. Take it day by day and hour by hour (as we took the front line). It is quite astonishing how many happy—even gay—moments we had together when there was no hope. 3. Don’t think of it as something sent by God. Death and disease are the work of the Devil. It is permitted by God: i.e., our General has put you in a fort exposed to enemy fire. 4. Remember other sufferers. It’s fatal to start thinking ‘Why should this happen to us when everyone else is so happy.’ You are (I was and may be again) one of a huge company. Of course we shall pray for you all we know how. God bless you both.
I desperately hope many will read those words of hope from C.S. Lewis. Of course, my little blog has far less exposure than other on-line Lewis enthusiasts and resources, but if even one hurting individual reads this for the first time, this post is worth the effort.
As I seem unable to leave well enough alone, I’ll list my thoughts on Lewis’ sage words below:
Even in this day of unprecedented diagnostic accuracy, doctors still make mistakes that are no less devastating than in Lewis’ time. We can’t help entertaining wild hopes, even in the face of grim probabilities. When those hopes get dashed, we naturally feel violated, even victimized. While that’s a natural, human reaction to misfortune, we must absolutely guard against self-pity, as it places us in judgment over God’s greater purposes for us.
Lewis’ wife Joy was one who wanted the brutally honest truth of everything. That’s how she came to believe in God and accept his gospel of redemption in Christ Jesus. Seems like most people, though, want only good news about their physical condition, and live in denial of the bad stuff. Even their outlook on national and world events suffers from such foolish optimism, leading them to support political candidates who pander to their unrealistic expectations.
Too often, we ruin the happiness we once had, and could still have, by agonizing over what might happen. Tragically, even Christians, who should actually anticipate physical death, worry about dying. Personally, I look forward to meeting my Savior face-to-face; it’s just the transition that bothers me. Lewis’ reference to Gethsemane is so true, even though Jesus’ prospects were infinitely worse than any we might face.
I love Lewis’ help #3 above, especially his analogy of a fort under siege. We must also remember that our loving God never allows misfortune lightly, but always for a redemptive purpose.
Very few of us will ever face the level of faultless heartache that C.S. Lewis faced. And even if we do, we know that Jesus suffered infinitely worse heartache, and physical torture than we ever will. At least be thankful for that.