Devil’s advocate

 

Sorry for the radio silence, folks. My poor old blog has been suffering for want of subject. I just figured that no one wanted to read two and a half month’s worth of those “Why yes, we are still living in a trailer and waiting for the big push,” kinds of updates.  Because that is what you would have gotten. And alas, that is what you are getting now.

I’m not gonna lie to you- this summer has been rough.  It has been long and slow and hot and sprinkled throughout with a few extra trials that, coming into the season, weren’t even on our radar. Each one has served to push us a little further off schedule and some days I’ve felt a little (or a lot) like a frightened rabbit, chased into a tight corner while the hounds of life (in my own little world and the world at large) snarl and snap their jaws.

This summer has revealed so many chinks in my armor that I begin to doubt that I’ m really the person I always thought I was.  The strong, patient, hopeful woman (I admit) I took pride in being has been replaced by a weak, short tempered, pessimistic creature that I don’t even recognize.

“The trailer demons” (as I have lovingly dubbed them) like to greet me every morning with assurances that we will be stuck here forever, that I will never have the patience to get through the day without losing it with my kids, that we were kidding ourselves to think that this attempt would ever work and that we might as well throw in the towel before we invest any more time or effort or emotion into this house.

In short, I have grown so discouraged by our still uncertain future that I forced myself to take a weekend to avail myself of the means of grace. And after much prayer and reading and a truly glorious time spent in God’s house yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my old self.  But this morning, the demons of discouragement came roaring back. So I turned, once again, to C.S. Lewis and his own work on demons.

We studied the Screwtape Letters quite a bit in high school and in rereading them, I was again reminded just how helpful they can be when dealing with the attacks of the evil one.  So I took the liberty (I hope Lewis will forgive me) of rewriting a few of those letters as a pep talk for myself.
(Just remember that the narrator is a senior demon writing to a demon in training and that The Enemy is God)

My dear Wormwood,

I am delighted to hear that your patient’s circumstances have put her into the uncertain position of living in a trailer with five young children while she waits for her husband to finish a larger house for her.  Remember, we want her to be in the maximum amount of uncertainty, so that her mind will be filled up with contradictory pictures of the future, everyone of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. For he wants them to be concerned about what they do, our business is to keep them thinking about what might happen to them.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that she must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that she should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to her- the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that she is to say, “Thy will be done,” and for this that the daily bread will be provided. But it is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as her appointed cross, but only the potential tribulations.

Let her regard those as her crosses: let her forget that they cannot possibly all happen to her, and let her try to practice fortitude and patience towards them all in advance, for real resignation to a dozen different hypothetical fates is impossible and the Enemy will not greatly assist those who are trying to attain such resignation.  A plea for aid during present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is what the Enemy is looking for.

For what you must understand is that our patient lives in time but the Enemy destines her to eternity.  The past is frozen and the future unknown and so he would have her continually concerned either with eternity (meaning with Him) or with the present – bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace or giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business is to get her away from both. It is far better to make her live in the future. Biological necessity makes all her passions point in that direction already so that thoughts about the future inflame either hope or fear. Hence, nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present but fear, discontent, anxiety, etc all look ahead.

Of course, the Enemy wants our patient to look to the future too, but not to place her treasure in it.

We do.

His ideal is a woman who, having worked to the best of her ability for the good of those around her, then commits the issue to heaven and returns to the duty demanded by the present.

But we want a woman made haggard by the future- haunted by visions of a possible heaven or hell upon earth- ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing, we can make her think she can attain one or the other- basing her faith on the success or failure of plans she may not even live to see. We want a perpetual pursuit of the rainbow’s end- never content nor patient nor happy in the now, but burning (as fuel on the altar of the future) every real gift which is given her in the present.

And one of these gifts is actually time itself. Humans are not usually made anxious or discontented by mere misfortune, but by misfortune perceived as injury and you will find that nothing throws her into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which she counted on having at her own disposal unexpectedly taken away from her.  It is the nagging child (when she looked forward to a quiet cup of coffee) or the neighbor needing her husband’s help (when she had counted on that time being spent in helping her) that throw her out of gear.  They anger her because she regards her time as her own and feels that it is being stolen.

Let her believe that she starts her day as the lawful possessor of 24 hours. Let her feel as a grievous tax that portion which she has to give to her husband and neighbor and child.
You have here a delicate task. This assumption that you want her to make is so absurd that once questioned, even we cannot find a shred of evidence in its defense. This woman can neither make nor retain even one moment of time- it all comes to her by pure gift.  She might as well regard the sun and moon as her own property.

She has, in theory however, committed herself to the Enemy and if the Enemy actually appeared to her in bodily form and demanded her total commitment for even one day, she would never refuse. In fact, she would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than excercising patience and love towards her family in tight quarters while she waited for a larger home.

We must never let her realize that in reality, she is actually in this position of commitment every day. Don’t let her thoughts come anywhere near it. Wrap in darkness the thought that her future is unknowable and that the present is the only time in which any prayer can be prayed or any grace recieved.

This is the great object.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

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