“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead . . .” Chapter XV, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
One of the first things I want to do when I get to heaven–right after hunting my dear son down and loving him a whole lifetime’s worth–is going to be to get in line for a C.S. Lewis lecture. I sometimes fantasize about what it will be like to sit at his feet–maybe his good friend’s, J.R.R. Tolkien’s, too–and listen to them as they smoke pipes and drink beer and toss around theology like a beach ball.
I have studied C.S. Lewis’ works from the Narnia series to A Grief Observed, but continue to carry around the tiny, 93-page The Screwtape Letters because every single page speaks to me. Lewis creates a series of letters in which a senior demon instructs a junior demon on how to distract a young man into hell. One would think the pages of this tiny book would include a series of fantastic stunts, flashy temptations and gory carnality to lure the young man away from God. Instead, the bulk of the demon’s instructions consist of tweaking the young man’s human nature just a tad so that even those things that may appear good can be used to corrupt his heart. Hence, being “saved” or “converted” becomes just another set of avenues the demons may lead the young man down toward a hellish end.
Lewis’ senior demon, “Screwtape,” asserts that the Enemy’s (God’s) will for humanity is to focus on all things eternal, as well as all that is in the Present. The past and the future, really, do not exist. And yet, if we as a race are distracted away from the present and eternity, we are looking backwards or forwards . . . and not usually for God! We get stuck in yesterday’s mistakes and successes. We become transfixed by a two-dimensioned moment instead of the three-dimensional potpourri (or bog) of emotions and circumstances it truly was. We can pick and choose the past, making it what we want to remember (or be haunted by).
I tend to get sucked back into the worst days of my life. Does anyone else? I have a very special brain, which doesn’t help, but still! Why is it that I spend so much more time fixated on the moments of terror and pain, and not the moments of joy in my past? And, why is it that it’s not the magical first kisses, beautiful wedding days, graduations, successes, and birthday parties that we focus on? Why do the bad days tend to define us, while the beautiful small moments of every single day are left uncaptured and thus forgotten?
This week, as part of a Bible study I am doing, I drew a map of the major moments of my life and the lessons I have learned from them. I was so proud of the map, covered in glitter glue mountain ranges, rain drops, rainbows, and suns . . . even though there were A LOT of rain drops. What I saw on my glitterfied life map was not just the events of my life but the way God used every single hardship to show me something new about myself, about Him, and make me more certain that He would be with me tomorrow. Through illness, I have learned HUMILITY, through sin I have learned GRACE and MERCY and EMPATHY, through loss I have learned BROKENNESS, through uncertainty I have found deeper FAITH. In all of these “rain drops,” God was working . . . . for my good, the good of my family, and all those we love. Romans 8:28 is easy to memorize and has brought me great comfort: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. Although sometimes I want to take this verse and shatter it against my living room wall, I KNOW it’s true. He keeps working, and working, and fashioning my tears into glittery rainbows.
I struggle every day. When I am at my whit’s end, wondering how I will breathe and survive through today, I can look back and see HIM all over my life! And I can be assured that if He was there, He most certainly is here, whether I feel Him or not. Gratitude sprang up as I looked at my completed life map, and I found myself writing at the bottom, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
I will dwell in the house of my Lord forever. Come what may, He was there and will be there, world without end, Amen.