It wasn’t my intention to pick up The Screwtape Letters today. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I even saw it was because I put it and a few other “good” “literary” books on my entertainment stand for when my aunt came over, so they would be impressed with my reading, and forgive my other out of place possessions. The books, like the clean dishes, organized closet, and sparkling bathroom with Country Apple hand soap and lotion, went largely unnoticed while the clutter is still being talked about. So, The Screwtape Letters lay neatly on the entertainment stand unobserved…until a few minutes ago.
I read most of the book a long time ago, when I was “going through it.” Sometime between buying it after a trip to the hairdresser (a trip I made every two weeks) in college junior year and getting re-enrolled in college after a year out of school, I began reading the short missives from one of the devil’s assistants, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior demon. Since then, I have been captivated at how searing some sections of the book are, how spot on some of its assertions are.
After having a conversation via email today about the true nature of believers and what they are thought to be like in their home life, I was a bit…put off. It’s not that I was surprised by the sentiments, or the person’s cynicism. It brought to mind, beyond offense, areas of my life in which this reading may be true…not only of religious beliefs and practices but in the pursuit of dreams and ideals. What about things that we profess to believe but behind close doors reveal something different of ourselves altogether?
Screwtape, ironically, had an answer to my night’s ponderings. He tells Wormwood to do two things that immediately brought some things into focus for me (remember, these are instructions to keep someone from God, from succeeding in life, from Heaven):
Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity Hell affords.
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occurs on the threshold of every human endeavour…It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
Wow. I had to sit and think about that. Are you feeling disappointment, anticlimatic even, now that you’ve been working on your New Year’s resolutions/goals for a few weeks? I do. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt sort of let down by the reality of 2011 thus far. But, there’s disappointment at the threshold of every human endeavour. But, every department of life disappointment marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious endeavour.
Dreaming up our goals and aspirations is the easy part; endeavouring to achieve them is hard work. It’s disappointing sometimes when we realize just how much work is involved. This is why even if we go to church every Sunday, people who really know us see us “stumbling” or “backsliding.” This is why we tell everyone we know we’re finally going to write that book, yet we can never seem to put pen to paper. We can aspire to greatness, but until we get over our disappointment, our disillusionments, and actually get down to the real work of making it happen, it’s all very hazy.
Of course, people don’t understand how hard it is for you. They don’t allow you to make mistakes. They don’t allow you to turn your back on what you said you would do and fall back into what you know. Now you’re hypocritical; now you talk a good game, but you don’t walk a good game; now you’re just another person who used to be a good writer and could have been published…a long time ago. You’ve lost your touch.
My encouragement is to just take a step–step over the disappoint, continue on to the goal. It’s like when you exercise after a while away, and your muscles protest the next day, and you convince yourself that taking a day off is actually good for you, only to discover you’ve taken off months and are bigger than before. Muscles are sore because they break down and rebuild themselves. Transformation can hurt at first. Push past the disappointment, the hurt, the uncertainty, towards the goal. It may seem like you’ll never get there, but you will.
Don’t be too caught up in where anybody else is, or how they perceive where you are. There are too many things that influence how they have come to view life that you have no control over. You can’t make them see in you what you are trying to bring about within yourself.
Many blessings on your laborious doing. And a ray of hope to help you on:
If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion, and therefore much harder to tempt.
- C. S. Lewis’s Classic Look at Liar’s Work (opinariwriters.blogspot.com)
- Monday Morning Musings (philstockworld.com)