Wisdom From C.S. Lewis

C.S.Lewis was an amazing man who died one day before I was born and just three years after his beloved wife ran to heaven ahead of him. 

In these later years I’ve often wondered how much grief played a role in his departure.  

I have appreciated his books for decades.  Shared them with others and spent hours reading The Chronicles of Narnia series to my children.

He is a family staple.  

But he can be a bit hard to understand at times-his rich background studying literature informed his own writing style.  So I often have to tease apart longer quotes to get at the meat of what he’s saying.

It’s always worth it.  

I read A GRIEF OBSERVED in my 30’s as another in a long list of “Books You Should Read”.  I gleaned a bit here or there that I thought might be of use later on.

But when Dominic ran ahead to heaven, it was the first book on grief I bought for myself and I read it like a starving man set down to a full table.  

This passage, in particular, was helpful in understanding how my absolute trust in the FACT of ultimate redemption of my pain and sorrow did absolutely NOTHING to take away the pain and sorrow-it only made it bearable.

 

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

My son is safe in the arms of Jesus.  And that is a comfort.  

And I, trusting in that truth and leaning into my faith in Christ, am also comforted that even here, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, am safe in the arms of Jesus.  I may FEEL lost, but I am NOT lost.

But-and here’s the experiential truth that separates those of us who experience the REALITY of child loss from those that IMAGINE it-my mother’s heart is denied the presence of my son for the rest of my earthly days.

All the things I had hoped for, dreamt of and expected to experience are robbed from me.  

There is no remedy for that.  

Absolutely none.

imagine child loss

 

Repost: God in a Box

Every idea of [God] we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.

I know I had.

Read the rest here:  God in a Box

 

 

 

 

God in a Box

Every idea of [God] we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.

I know I had.

I thought that after decades of walking with Jesus, reading and studying Scripture and wading through some fairly significant trials I had God pretty well figured out.

I could quote verses for every occasion, open my Bible to any book without looking in the Table of Contents, and had something sprirtual to say about everything.

But now, like Job, I cover my mouth.

C.S. Lewis shared his grief journey after losing his wife in the book,  A Grief Observed.

What many may not know is that he was pressured to publish it under a pseudonym.  

His publishers and some of his close friends didn’t want people to know that this giant of the Christian faith, this celebrated apologist for believing Christ was shaken to the core by the death of his beloved bride.

Lewis resisted and I am so thankful.  

It brings me great comfort to know that one who was much more equipped to face a faith crisis found himself floundering in the ocean called sorrow and grief.

He knew where the boat was.  

But he, like me, wasn’t sure he wanted to climb back in.

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Grief has forced me to reexamine every notion I had of God and how He works in the world.  I’ve had to pull out all my theological assumptions and compare what I thought I knew to what is in the Bible and what I have experienced in life.

It is exhausting.  And necessary.

Like Lewis, I’ve discovered that I had ideas about God, but that they were not necessarily true: “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.” 

I had decided that God acted in certain ways, that prayers guaranteed certain results and that my life as a believer in Christ was destined to be one of favor and blessing because I was honoring Him.

My box for God included room for some pain and suffering-but definitely not enough space for Him to take my child and plunge me into this abyss of grief and sorrow.

What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

C.S.Lewis

At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed:

“But, God, will you really live here with us on the earth? The whole sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you. Certainly this house that I built cannot contain you either.”

2 Chronicles 6:18 ERV

God has broken out of my boxHe was never really in it to begin with.  

Only my ideas of Him could be contained in so small a space.

 

Bereaved Parents and The Question of Photographs

 

Pictures are everywhere today–much different than when I was a child and you had to go down to the local studio to get a decent family photo. Poloroids were fun and fast, but the number of shots you could take was limited to the film in the packet.

And how many rolls of 110 or 35 mm are still rattling around somewhere in drawers or boxes, undeveloped and forgotten?

But now our phones make us instant and eager chroniclers of the everyday.

And social media gives us the opportunity to splatter our work across the Internet–all over the country and around the world.

One of the challenges facing bereaved parents is what to do about photographs–both the ones that exist and the ones yet to be taken.

I remember everything about the first formal family photograph after Dominic died.

It was two months to the day since we buried him, and his older brother was getting married.  A day we had planned for and looked forward to for a long time.  It marked a new beginning, a new life, but the spectre of death veiled my eyes and whispered in my ears.

Standing there, smiling and holding back the tears, my heart cried,”One of us is missing!” and I wanted to shout, “Don’t take the photo.  Don’t memorialize the absence of my son.”

I swallowed the words and have an album full of evidence that he wasn’t there.

Our family usually sends New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards but I haven’t sent one in two years because they always included a family picture.  I don’t know how to send them if Dominic isn’t in the frame.

And what to do with all the pictures that already exist?

We had a video montage at his funeral and I have it tucked safely away. There are hundreds of snapshots, digital photos on computers and phones, all the images on his Facebook page and the pages of friends…

C.S. Lewis notes in A Grief Observed:

“Today I had to meet a man I haven’t seen for ten years.  And all that time I had thought I was remembering him well–how he looked and spoke and the sort of things he said.  The first five minutes of the real man shattered the image completely.  Not that he had changed.  On the contrary…I had known all these things once and recognized them the moment I met them again.  But they had all faded out of my mental picture of him, and when they were all replaced by his actual presence the total effect was quite astonishingly different from the image I had carried about with me for those ten years.  How can I hope that this will not happen to my memory of H.[his wife]?  That it is not happening already?”

And that’s the thing–the pictures aren’t my son.  

They were a moment in time, and bring a smile of remembrance, but they are only a shallow representation of the vibrant life that was Dominic.  As the months progress and his siblings and friends age, the pictures document that he is further and further out of step with our current reality.  

We are leaving him behind.

I decided early on that our walls would not become a shrine to the one child missing.  So I have incorporated photos of Dominic with those of his siblings and other family members. I do have more pictures on display than I used to–they are all I have left of my son.

It’s easy to honor his memory–but I want to honor him.  Who he was, what he represents and who he remains as part of who I am.

I don’t know how to combat the slow fade of the experience of my living, breathing son in all his complexity to the two-dimensional representation hanging on my wall.

I wish I did.

 

Embracing Solitude, Making Space to Hear

We strive so hard to fill our days–our feet barely hit the floor and we are rushing to get ready, to get in the car, to go somewhere, do something.

And should there be the rare morning when our schedule doesn’t demand our attention, we sleep it away and then turn on our noise machines to provide a soundtrack for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between.

One statistic notes: “our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes.”  (USA Today)

We are afraid to be alone.

Afraid to listen to my own heartbeat and thoughts and to consider my own questions.  So I fill the space with distractions and push away the necessity of facing them.

But grief will not be ignored.

It will not allow me to pull the covers over my mind and hide beneath them.  I cannot turn the music or television up loud enough to drown out the rhythm of sorrow keeping time in my head.

I am re-reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis.

It comforts me that this man who was an intellectual giant, a creative genius, and a thoughtful and capable apologist for the Gospel, struggled just like me when faced with the sorrow, pain, loss and questions of grief.

And, contrary to what I wish were true there are not answers available for every question.

Quoting Bible verses does not soothe every frayed nerve.

There are not rock-solid assurances that sweep away every doubt.

Being in one’s own company alone with God is challenging.  

Without the noise of outside distraction I am forced to face my fears and hidden darkness.  

with you always

 

And in the quiet I find that the easy answers leave me empty and unsatisfied.  I must listen carefully for the still, small Voice that whispers comfort.

In the end, it is to Jesus Himself that I must cling.