Over the weekend I finished a couple of books that I’d been working through. One of those was CS Lewis’ testimony / memoir “Surprised by Joy”. It had been awhile since I’d read anything by Lewis and I found, once again, that he does not seem to have the capacity to disappoint me. He is one of the most gifted storytellers that I have ever read, and this work was more evidence of that. Some people could find the book to be tedious in places as he makes much reference to books and authors that many of us are likely not familiar with, but Lewis has a way of writing that, even if you aren’t sure you completely understand everything he’s saying, makes you feel a great desire to read the next sentence. His wit is also on full display in “Surprised by Joy” and there were several laugh out loud moments as he described his young life.
There are far too many highlighted passages that I could share, but one that was of particular note had to do with the loss of Lewis’ mother. Lewis and his older brother were still fairly young when she passed, and he describes something that has stuck with me in a broader context,
Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently. For us boys the real bereavement had happened before our mother died. We lost her gradually as she was gradually withdrawn from our life into the hands of nurses and delirium and morphia, and as our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations.
– CS Lewis, “Surprised by Joy”
Lewis touched something here that made me read these sentences several times before I could move on in the book. The idea of life, and its definition, is something that I fear we do not all agree on. There is a prevailing notion that life is only over at the point of death, of last breaths, of caskets and tombstones. But Lewis captures something of importance as he makes it clear that life is about more than heartbeats and brain waves.
I could not help but consider this from the perspective, not of physical life only, but of our social and spiritual existence as well. I wonder if we wait far too long to mourn for our own spiritual deaths. I wonder if we hesitate to attempt to resuscitate our relationships until they are completely severed and lifeless. And as I wonder these things it leads me to believe that we, perhaps, do not understand what faith and friendship really are. As we begin to recognize the loss of those things gradually we must begin chest compressions and rescue breaths, not waiting until our love for God or our love for people have collapsed and are flat-lining.
Stirring up the faith is something Paul instructed Timothy to do (2 Timothy 1:6), not after it was dead but to keep it alive. Hebrews tells us to spur one another on as we see the day of the Lord approaching (Hebrews 10:25). These take place prior to the point of necrosis, before our loves and joys have become corpses lying in the rubble of our hearts. I fear that we wait far too long to mourn for those things which are lost. It is often easier to ignore the symptoms of decline and then act as if we didn’t see any of it coming than to admit that we are slowly dying. Let us not wait to cast ashes and dust over the lifeless shells of what we used to be, but keep open eyes for places where we are drifting and dying and do what we must to inject life, like adrenaline, into our hearts.
Jesus came to defeat death and bring life. We should be very careful that we do not find ourselves speaking in whispers about how things “used to be”, for in that moment we have begun talking the talk of wakes and funerals. And let us never forget that our children sit at the top of the stairs, long after their bedtime, listening to us as we eulogize things instead of praying for their resurrection.