Is It Time to Declutter Your Soul?

My friend Joanne was continually clearing off her kitchen table–with little success to show for her valiant efforts. Whenever we talked on the phone, I could hear her moving about, tethered by a 1970’s era phone cord, and I knew what she was doing. She was clearing off the kitchen table. Again. Even so, whenever I visited, the piles had returned, and books, mail, groceries, and newspapers would need to be swept to one side, a vivid, visual image of her hospitable heart making room for me in her full and busy life.

In the decades that have passed since my last visit with Joanne, there have been seasons in which my soul felt like her kitchen table, weighted down with untidy piles that I shuffled and moved around, but never really tended to. The clutter never failed to get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish.

Emily P. Freeman has just such a table in her own backstory, and when she set out to produce a podcast and, eventually to write a book called The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, her goal was to share her own space-making practices. As we learn to clear our cluttered tables and souls, we make room for life-giving activities and create space for listening to the voice of God.

Decisions are Hard

According to Freeman’s research, American adults are privileged to make over 35,000 decisions every day, and over two hundred of these are about food. (14) With that in mind, as we clear away the chaos, priorities and categories become clearer, and we find, among all the daily decisions that there really is “space for our souls to breathe.”

Decisions are hard, and we want to make good ones. I, personally, want divine guidance on the level of sky writing:  “Buy the Silver Honda” in puffy, white lettering against a blue sky of clarity. Since this has never been my experience, I’m in the market for quiet wisdom that will heighten my listening skills for the guidance God does choose to provide, and so I found myself pausing and paying attention to Emily’s gentle suggestions for discovering my Next Right Thing.

“Do the next thing” as a mantra and as marching orders came into its own through the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot, but it actually has its roots in an anonymous poem, assuring believers that “Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, Trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.  Certainly Jesus held to a “next right thing” mindset in his ministry among people. Whenever he told someone to hold out a hand, pick up a bed, wash in a pool, or go home, he was offering an object lesson in the importance of small acts of faithfulness.

Thoughts on Decluttering

Simple, soulful practices offered in The Next Right Thing bring grace to the reader’s cluttered table. For example, pro/con charts have been toxic for me in the past because I’m intent on (obsessed with) a successful outcome.

These thoughts felt like someone opened a window to the light and the fresh air:

  • “You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time. We live in an outcomes-based culture where the correctness of our choice seems based on the success of the result… Successful outcomes might look great on paper, but we want to build our lives on love, faith, connectedness, redemption, laughter, wholeheartedness, joy, and peace.”
  • “We make our list alongside Jesus and bring these things to him, asking him in every situation what he wants us to do. And then we trust that our desire can be trusted because he isn’t just with us; he lives within us and he’ll let us know what we need to know.”

Doing the next thing in love lightens the decision-making load by fine-tuning our focus. Following Jesus certainly involves multiple and complex choices over the course of a lifetime, but this is accomplished by following Jesus for the next ten minutes. And then the next. He has promised us light for our path, but most of the time my eyes are darting off the path, worried about eventualities that never materialize. By faith, we can clear away the clutter of indecision and walk with confidence and joy in the light that’s given as we do the next right thing.

Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Trusting Jesus for today’s next right thing,

Michele (1)

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate  If you should decide to purchase The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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The Treasure Buried in Your Weakness

The phone rang, and it was bad timing, but I answered it anyway out of habit. A friend from church was looking for some very specific information, so the call was quick. We accomplished the purpose and the call ended.

But the phone rang again. My friend had heard something in my voice, and she had heard accurately:  emotions close to the surface, the sound of a day that had already gone on too long.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I don’t recall the specifics of my lie, but I’m certain the word fine would have figured prominently in it, and so I foolishly squandered the opportunity to admit that I was tired, overwhelmed, and feeling like a failure. I dodged an offer of grace.

Fine is a lie that isolates hearts and drives pain underground, and the soul that is determined to be perceived as fine will never uncover the treasure that is buried in weakness. Alia Joy offers readers the gift of words to put a shovel in their hands as she labors alongside them, patiently excavating the truth that blessing comes with vulnerability. Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack reveals Alia’s own story of poverty and longing and unearths her struggles with bipolar disorder, chronic illness, and faltering faith.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

As North American Christians, we don’t have a category for struggle that does not go away. We are uncomfortable with the poor, the mentally ill, and the unlovely-unloveables who do not enhance our Instagram stories or look the way they “should” in our pews. Having been sold a narrative that includes gleaming smiles and answers to prayer that arrive just in the nick of time, we need a theology that is formed by Jesus’s teaching in the Beatitudes, for, ironically, poverty of spirit qualifies us for Kingdom living.

“We say God is all we need but we don’t live like it.” (37)

Leaning into our longing, listening to all our souls lack, and putting a name on our need sets the table for true biblical lament. Armed with a theology that accounts for emptiness and ache, we are able to sit with our own faithless flounderings and to speak truth into a friend’s anger or loss without expecting an abracadabra moment. Alia’s writing admits the risk in this, for, it is much easier to pray for the good life and to hang out with those who are living it.

For Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven

Fortunately, Scripture provides solid examples of men and women of great faith who poured out their disappointment with God in no uncertain terms and yet persevered in obedience. Their honesty did not disqualify them from God’s love or His service.

“We are not better Christians when we call the hardest parts of life ‘good.’ But we can learn to call God good in the hardest parts of our lives.” (156)

It is an act of faith to embrace the goodness of God while our story is still unfolding. It is a practice of radical hope to invite others into that unfinished story. As we embrace our own Glorious Weakness, we receive a refresher course in the “phonics of hope.” (196)
And who knows?
With a little practice–and a few more disarming phone calls– even the most stubbornly fine among us might find ourselves speaking fluently about a God who sits with us in our sadness and enters our brokenness.

Together, may we find grace to trust for restoration that comes in ways we cannot prescribe and may not have chosen, but that, nonetheless, reveals God’s great Kingdom here on earth.

 

Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Bearing witness to the goodness of God in the most unlikely places,

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Jim and Elisabeth Elliot: A Deep and Delighted Love

He said:  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

She said:  “The deepest lessons come out the deepest waters and the hottest fires.”

And all the world still takes note, for Jim Elliot was a courageous missionary pioneer and martyr. Elisabeth Elliot was a superior writer and a sought after Bible teacher. Both are remembered as spiritual giants.

He also said:  “I didn’t know I would get this way, Betty, but I am lost, utterly lost without you. I love you, my darling, and sometimes just have to stop where I am and heave a sigh.”

She also said:  “I love you madly, and think their just isn’t anyone else to compare. Are you sure you’re not perfect? I think you must be mistaken, because I just love everything about you.”

But of course these words were private, addressed to each other, and sent by mail from separate South American mission outposts in the days leading up to their wedding. Valerie Elliot Shepard has combed through her parents’ letters and journals and the resulting treasure is Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. While the story of their courtship has been told in Elisabeth’s classic Passion and Purity, it is now possible for readers to trace the unfolding romance from love’s first stirring at Wheaton College in the late 1940’s all the way through the birth of their daughter Valerie.

A Persevering Love

When Jim and Elisabeth (“Betty”) landed in classical Greek classes together, the love that grew between them surprised them both. She was serious and studious; he was a visible presence on campus (and something of a character) who was quite vocal about his intentions to embark upon a career as a single missionary.  Nonetheless, through crisscrossing postmarks and star-crossed years of separation by circumstances and geography, their love persevered and survived five long years of waiting for a green light from God. Journal entries and letters document a growing devotion to each other alongside an expanding desire to follow unswervingly the will of God, even if it meant giving up all hope for a future together.

Listen in:

From Elisabeth’s journal (116):

“Oh, the joy which has come in knowing that I am one with Christ . . . oh, the marvelous, unspeakable interchange of joy–He my joy, I His joy–He my satisfaction, I His satisfaction. For I am accepted in the Beloved. . . I am In Christ–may He be seen in me.”

And from Jim’s journal (31):

“Prayed a strange prayer today. I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things–either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. . .”

A Persevering Faithfulness

Just as young adults in 2019 cannot conceive of a relationship conducted entirely by snail mail, it is also likely that few can visualize a love in which each seeks his greatest satisfaction not in the beloved, but in the Savior. Because they allowed their vision to be shaped by Truth, Jim and Elisabeth were able to maintain an astonishing degree of clarity about their callings while still acknowledging the depth of their longing for one another. When the Bible says, “In Your light we see light,” this is not a promise of an uncluttered and pain free life, but rather an assurance that while “faith does not eliminate questions, faith knows where to take them.”

Valerie Shepard’s stated purpose in unpacking and sharing this trunk full of written memories left to her by her mother is that readers would discover anew God’s “unchanging, faithful, merciful, and loving character,” and be “fully moved in obedience to Him that we too might leave a lasting legacy of faith as [her] parents did.” (45) With mid-twentieth-century black-and-white pictures, images lifted from the handwritten letters, and a vintage feel to the book’s layout, Devotedly was a delight to read and to savor.

Readers can expect to be challenged by the laser focus of two young adults who took seriously their role as disciples–as followers of “Him who bore a cross.” As a mother and a grandmother, I want to let my prayer life be shaped by the knowledge that my most-loved people will not be exempt from disappointment, delay, or even confusion at times, for perseverance through difficulty is often the tool God uses in the shaping of a deeper devotion and a more faithful following.


Many thanks to B&H Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

“You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms,”

michele signature[1]


P.S. I recently read and reviewed the book Elisabeth wrote about her days of waiting and wondering, while adjusting to life as a single missionary. Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is a beautiful account of radical obedience in a context of wondering what God might be up to.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

When D.A. Carson had the opportunity to interview two well-known and highly influential American theologians, he went straight to the core of their long ministries with this question:  “You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God’s good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?”

Their reply came with passion:  “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?”

When Jesus chose the humiliating path to the cross, He beat a clear trail for His followers. D.A. Carson issues a call to return to the cross as the main thing in our communication of the gospel. In our relationships, our prayer life, our career goals, and our personal choices, we demonstrate the depth of our commitment to the cross in a way that mere words cannot equal.

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

The Gospel is the Main Thing

I am often convicted that my conversations and my hospitality look and sound pretty much the same as anyone else’s. While we gather around my dining room table for “fellowship,” we are most likely to be sharing stories about common interests and family news, and I wonder:  Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

Carson states the goal:

“The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers.” (21)

The Main Thing About the Gospel is the Cross

Because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross,” the cross becomes not only a symbol of our following life. It becomes “the supreme standard of our behavior.” (51) Self-denial is not second nature, and it is one thing to say, “I’m willing to be a servant for Christ’s sake,” but quite another thing when someone actually treats us like a servant. Carson employs the word “slave” to describe this and clarifies the self-emptying behavior as Jesus “making himself a nobody” (56)–our greatest fear in this selfie culture!

New believers will benefit from this primer for persistent progress in the faith, but seasoned followers of Christ will find their comfort zone invaded and their notions about Christian leadership and the faithful walk challenged and expanded. Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. Carson puts his finger on the soure of my dilemma: If I were living faithfully by the standard set forth in Philippians, the Gospel would quickly become the main thing for me as it was for Paul.

Many thanks to BakerBooks for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope,

michele signature[1]


Readers looking for more wisdom and biblical insight from D. A. Carson will appreciate his work in Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. You can get a preview in preparation for the Lenten season from my review here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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10 Ways to Reflect God’s Character

He placed one hand on the door frame, shifted his weight to one foot, and then placed the other small boot toe-down on the floor. Looking at his dad, he checked his hand position and then assumed the facial expression he deemed appropriate to the occasion, a conversation among “the guys.” My grandson’s imitation of his dad is endearing, but it is also instructional. If you want to be like someone, even if that Someone is God, you study their actions and do your best to imitate and replicate them. If you want to be like God, and if God has revealed Himself through inspired writing as One who values and embodies particular qualities, then you have your marching orders.

In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character is Jen Wilkin’s affirmation that God’s character, revealed in Scripture, is the believer’s template:

“How should the knowledge that God is _________________ change the way I live?”  (21)

Who Should I Be?

A laser focus on the character and attributes of God impacts on my own character, but it also shifts my perception for decision making. When I am seeking the will of God, I have tended to ask, “What should I do?” when the better question is “Who should I be?”  Wilkin expresses the tension well and from personal experience:

“Perhaps you’ve known the frustration of hearing silence, or worse, of acting on a hunch or ‘leading’ only to find later that you apparently had not heard the Lord’s will. I know that process better than I’d like to admit, and I also know the shame that accompanies it–the sense that I’m tone-deaf to the Holy Spirit, that I’m terrible at discovering God’s will. . . .His will does not need discovering. It is in plain sight. To see it we need to start asking the question that deals with his primary concern. We need to ask, ‘Who should I be?'”

Here’s what it boils down to:

“What does it profit me to make the right choice if I’m still the wrong person? A lost person can make ‘good choices.’ But only a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit can make a good choice for the purpose of glorifying God.”

So while there is no list of words, no magical set of adjectives that can fully encompass the character and nature of God, Jen Wilkin has chosen ten attributes that assist the reader in modeling a life after the character of God.

For example, God’s holiness is his most frequently cited attribute in Scripture. What does His utter purity of character mean for the believer who claims a desire to be like Jesus? Practical holiness, according to Jerry Bridges, includes a “desire to be made holy.” This leads me to ask myself a number of razor-edged questions:

  • Am I praying about the sanctification of my kids–and myself?
  • Are my motives for right behavior results-oriented or am I seeking holiness for its own glorious sake?

Asking the Better Question

In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character has heightened my awareness of God’s attributes as a doorway to worship, and the journey actually began for me when I read Wilkin’s earlier release None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). (Click here to read my review!) In our efforts to understand the nature of God and to reflect His character, it is true that we are invited by the God who is holy, loving, good, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise to enter into the embodiment of these virtues as part of our sanctification process. These attributes of God are communicable, and this is a list that the believer can grow into by walking in obedience to the commands of God through the power of the Spirit of God within.

However, God is also infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. These are His incommunicable attributes, which, by their very nature can be true only of God. When we “strive to become like God in any of these traits, we set ourselves up as his rival. Human beings created to bear the image of God aspire instead to become like God.”

It is always a joy to return to the truth of the Gospel which is not self-help or advice for “better living,” but rather Good News. So, what is the Good News? It is simply this: The believer’s flawed and imperfect representation of the image of God can, by grace, be transformed. As we seek, by grace, to be “conformed to the image of Christ,” we begin by asking, “who should I be?” and then enter into the life long process of discovering who God is as we look to Him for the answers our hearts desire.  


Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character, or None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

When Words Fail: Living and Lamenting through Dementia

It’s a common experience:  the brain goes in search of a word that just will not materialize. Finally, eventually, the elusive word does come, even if it takes a thesaurus to prime the pump, and we rejoice because in conversation and in writing, finding and savoring the just-right-word to frame a thought is supremely satisfying.

Therefore, it was a searing loss for Douglas and Becky Groothuis when Becky began experiencing the symptoms of a uniquely devastating form of dementia (primary progressive aphasia) which robs the patient first of words, then of all executive function, and eventually of life. As writers, speakers, and teachers, Douglas and Becky’s life together and their livelihoods, their humor and their recreation, had revolved around words. Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness-A Philosopher’s Lament traces the tragedy of their loss from the caregiver’s perspective as, slowly, Groothuis’s beloved wife and companion begins slipping away.

The Language of Lament

Borrowing words from Moses and a soundtrack from Pink Floyd, Groothuis sings a lament in the key of faith, describing a slow suffering in a book that no one would want to write. He expressed lament with Buechner-esque accuracy:

Lament is the place “where our deep sadness meets the world’s deep wounds.”  (55, 56)

Christian lament should not be silenced or hurried along, for it is a sorrow mingled with hope, and those who mourn are “aching visionaries” (57) who lead us in expressing our own broken hearts in a context of healing and purpose found only in the knowledge of God. The worry and the despair of Becky’s gradual slippage wore on Douglas’s spirit, and he related with candor his season of misotheism–“hatred of God” (41)–in which it seemed that God (whose existence Groothuis never questioned) just was not listening and would not relieve their suffering.

Becky’s aphasia and loss of executive function rendered normal routines of life–tying shoes, brushing teeth, using a phone–inscrutable. With both caregiver and patient, efficiency is just a memory, but rendering lemonade from this sour mess, Groothuis observed, “Uni-tasking is often more important than multitasking.”  Leaning into the beauty and the gift of becoming the caring person in his wife’s days, his focus became the embodiment of “unmediated presence,” which comes as close to expressing the image of God as we can hope for on this planet.

Walking Through Twilight Together

As both a philosopher and a lover of God, the author plumbs the depths of his suffering and emerges with wisdom for the body of Christ both to lend purpose to our personal experiences of suffering and to sharpen our skill in coming alongside others as we enter fully and most helpfully into the brokenness of others.

Because it is a unique and long-term loss, our hearts so often do not know how to help a family that is struggling with some form of dementia. Cards and letters are a thoughtful way to express concern because they can be read in quiet moments.

Both tenderness and respect are crucial to communication and help to eliminate the tendency to talk down to dementia patients, to raise one’s voice, and to condescend. Becky Groothuis appreciated visitors and medical personnel who included her in conversations, who spoke directly to her and not merely about her.

Beware of Mere Optimism

As a caregiver, Douglas eventually begin to dread the question, “How is Becky?” A truthful answer would have been too hard for most casual inquirers to handle:  “She’s not doing well, and she will never get better.” Instead of inflicting the burden of vague questions, he suggests that we avoid trying to cheer caregivers up or to move them forward in their grief. Better instead:  grant them time and space to grieve. He urges believers to “pray for wisdom before speaking or communicating with someone under the pressure of loss.”

When offering help, be sure to follow through with action. Providing meals, transportation, or assistance with mundane tasks speaks love. Pronouncements shaped around Romans 8:28 and “I know how you feel” are presumptuous and not helpful, particularly in the earliest days of grief.

“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”  (Proverbs 25:20)

When words fail, when things fall apart, and the twilight signals that darkness is on its way in your own small world, God is present there in the twilight.

Even when words fail, the Word Himself is present and He will never fail.


And this update will enable you to pray with knowledge for the author as he journeys through grief:

At 6:45 a.m. on July 6, 2018, Becky Groothuis peacefully entered the presence of her Lord. Douglas shared these thoughts on Facebook shortly after her passing:

“Her long, long struggle is over. I don’t have to worry about her any more. . . Becky’s body is upstairs and will soon leave this house and all earthly houses forever. She has already risen from her body into God’s realm of angels and saints.

I don’t believe this for sentimental reasons. I worked hard for my worldview. We are more than our bodies. We have souls. The soul leaves the body at death to go into God’s presence. Christ’s resurrection is the down payment for our resurrection after the intermediate state. These beliefs hold me as God holds me, and Becky.


Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness-A Philosopher’s Lament, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Lessons from C.S.Lewis: Becoming Fully Human

In my senior year of college, I took an English elective on the writings of C.S.Lewis. The professor, Dr. Kaye, was ebullient, effervescent, and contagious in her love for the Oxford don who spun words into gold. Her instructions for the final exam were simple but ominous: simply bring a pen and plenty of paper. We all eyed one another with apprehension, and it turns out with good reason, because the exam consisted of one question: Describe the theology of C.S. Lewis and support your statements from his writing.

Joe Rigney has taken this assignment one step further, for in  Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), he presses beyond Lewis’s theology and considers its outworking in life on this planet. While it is true that C.S. Lewis was careful to remind his readers at every opportunity that he was not a biblical scholar nor a theologian, nonetheless, his writing has had an almost unparalleled impact on the way we think and talk about the Christian life. It is at this intersection of theology and practice that Rigney engages with Lewis’s words.

 

One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Rigney’s goal in writing is not to explain Lewis so we don’t need to read him, but instead to create an appetite for his work, which he has definitely done in my case by quoting from The Weight of Glory, reminding me of the brand new copy that’s waiting for me on my bookcase.

On the Choice

Lewis is clear throughout his writing that Christianity boils down to a Choice:

“Both God and self are good and should be embraced. But the Choice in question is which of these will be at the center?

Furthermore, this Choice is expressed in any number of specific decisions throughout life, but the goal of the Christian life, according to Lewis, is to “so encounter the living God that we become our true selves. Becoming fully human in the presence of God–that is what Lewis thought the Christian life is all about.”

On the Person of God

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes sage advice in four words:  “Begin where you are.” Of course, he’s thinking “chiefly on prayer” in that book, but the conflict lies in the truth that humanity is limited to here and now, while God, both omnipresent and transcendent, has chosen to join us in the here and now. “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

In Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, God is portrayed as a Pursuer. In Mere Christianity, he explains his favorite analogy of God as Author. “The world is His story or play, and we are His characters.” In Perelandra, we are reminded that Lewis viewed God’s creative work as a harmonious union, a Great Dance, and humanity’s sin came about because God’s Choice was to grant freedom in the dance, allowing for the possibility of sin.

On the Gospel

While Lewis decried the term “total depravity” on the grounds that a totally depraved individual would be unable to recognize sin in himself, his understanding of humanity’s sinful condition is certainly clear and orthodox. He also dismissed the doctrine of penal substitution on the basis that the reason why Christ’s death “has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start” is less important than the reality that He did it. However, it is ironic that Aslan’s sacrificial death on behalf of Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) is a lovely picture of the very doctrine Lewis protests about.

In applying the Gospel, Lewis describes the benefits of Christ’s work in the life of the believer through two images from Mere Christianity:

(1) Good Infection:  “We catch the Christ-life by being close to him, by drawing near to him, in truth, by being ‘in him.'”

(2) Good Pretending: This is the furthest thing from hypocrisy or moralism, but is rather a living out of our righteous standing in Christ, whether we feel like it or not. “The pretense leads to the real thing.”

On “Nothing-Buttery”

The Christian life, according to C.S. Lewis, is lived against a vigorous background of spiritual warfare. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis highlighted the elder devil’s urgency in communicating to “the patient” a reductionist view of the world in which “everything we can see and know is nothing but a mixture of matter in motion.” If humans are nothing but sacks of protoplasm, emotions are nothing but a confluence of digestion and hormones, and stars are nothing but burning gas, life is reduced to its lowest common denominator.

For Lewis, the incarnation was an extremely practical matter in that it gave dignity to our physical existence and tore down the artificial barrier between “the scientific and the supernatural.” In fact, this is my favorite aspect of Lewis’s brilliance: he always left room for God.  As a spinner of tales himself, he knew the importance of giving the Author free reign, and maintained that “reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

On Relationships

The way we treat other people is the test of our commitment to the Christian life, and Rigney chose Lewis’s final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, to dissect the impact of divine love on selfish love. Juxtaposing Orual’s corrupt love with Lewis’s thoughts in The Four Loves, Rigney offered parallels that were revelatory for understanding Orual’s and our own twisted neediness. Even her relationship with the gods is marked by her demand that they reveal themselves on her terms.

Throwing away joy with both hands, Orual brings us full circle, back around to Lewis’s point that the Christian life teeters at the tipping point of choice from beginning to end. Whether it’s a matter of initial surrender of your life or a wide place in the road where you are holding out on a seemingly smaller decision, here’s the Truth from Lewis’s pen:

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”


Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

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