Pendulum swings

The pendulum swings continue. A week ago I was enjoying life with my wife, riding a ferry on Sydney Harbour. Today I climbed out of bed for the first time in five days since having chemotherapy. Chemo messes with my body big time. But it also messes with my mind. When I’m relatively chemo-free, I start to feel ‘normal’, like I can make plans and take on the world.  Then comes the poison again, and the world seems to collapse around me. I worry that I won’t get better and that I won’t be able to do anything much at all.

Perhaps, I need to adopt a mathematical approach to working out how I’m going and how much I can do…

(G + B) ÷ 2 = R

G is the good times
B is the bad times
R is a realistic assessment of where I’m at and what I can do!

In other words, when I feel really good, I need to realise that this is the top of the pendulum swing and it won’t be this good for long. And when I feel bad, I need to remember that things will get better and it’s just for a time. Split the difference and I will have a more realistic picture of things!

More importantly, I don’t want to be controlled by the pendulum, whether it’s mood swings or health swings or any other kind of swing. I have the capacity and the responsibility to choose how I will respond to my circumstances. Victor Frankl, who spend time as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, highlighted this fact in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote:

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Frankl was a brilliant and exceptional man. In the face of extreme suffering, he shaped a philosophy of life and an approach to therapy that has had massive influence. I enjoy reading his works, and find it helpful to be reminded that I can choose how I’ll respond to what happens to me. I’m not simply a victim (or otherwise) or my personal circumstances.

But I’m also a little wary of Frankl’s positivism. Yes, it’s up to me to choose, but what if I can’t? I might want to take control of my thoughts and feelings, but struggle to do so. What if I’m overwhelmed by my bad experiences or seduced by the good ones? What if I’m simply too weak to think clearly and rationally? What if the treatment impacts my mood so greatly that I don’t know what I’m feeling?

I take comfort in the knowledge that God knows what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. He understands the full impact of my circumstances upon me. He’s aware of my tendency to swing with the pendulum. He’s seen me get cocky when things are going well and he’s seen me depressed when things seem too hard. And he cares for me in all these situations.

I’m comforted by the fact that even if I despair and struggle to pray, God will help me in my weakness.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27)

I’m encouraged by the promise that whatever circumstances may threaten to overpower me, nothing can separate me from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

The pendulum will continue to swing. Life will have its ups and its downs. I will get tossed around more than I would like. But I thank God for his strength and grace to see me through.

(first published in on 26/9/12)

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