I’m relieved for the elections to be over, but I know there are those of you reading this today feeling sad and disheartened. Maybe even discouraged or scared about the future. I’ve seen anger and frustration vented on Facebook, and I know there’s despair simmering in others who don’t have Facebook as a place to vent, and so I want to ask all of you to stop for a moment today and focus on gratitude.
We’re two weeks away from Thanksgiving here in the United States, and a friend of mine Wendy Anderson Schulz posted a lovely idea on her blog this morning about how to make Facebook a kinder, more joy-filled place for the next few weeks. Her idea is simple: post one thing you’re grateful for each day and post only that one status update each day. She promises that limiting ourselves to just one thing each day will become more and more difficult, as we look around and see the abundance of blessings in our lives. How right she is.
You may recall that I hosted a gratitude challenge on my blog last Fall. As I was looking back through last Fall’s posts to prepare for today’s post, I was struck by the similarities in what I’m grateful for again right today.
Last year, I posted photos of a book, a bouquet and a phone – three very different things that made me grateful. Today, I’m grateful for the phone again (this time for its silence now that elections are over). It hasn’t rung a single time yet today.
I’m grateful for a different bouquet of flowers, simply because the flowers continue to bring such beauty and fragrance to my home:
And now to the book part of my gratitude today. I’m grateful for the wisdom and fundamental truths that I find in C.S. Lewis’ works. I just recently reread his fictional account of the battle between Heaven and Hell in The Great Divorce. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read that book enough times. It is beautiful.
Lewis paints such an enduring portrait of the entrance to heaven that I often find myself thinking back to his images with joy and curiosity. In some ways, the book is a cautionary tale, too, as Lewis’ spot-on depiction of human nature explores the possibilities of heaven and the small-mindedness that keeps some of us from embracing it.
Lewis explores these same themes from a completely different vantage point in The Screwtape Letters. This book is a series of advice letters that Screwtape, a senior devil, writes to his nephew Wormwood describing methods to win souls for Hell.
I want to share with you some passages from The Screwtape Letters today, because they point so tellingly to the ways we let ourselves allow fear and division to creep among us and tear us apart. In his description of how to win the man’s soul away from God (whom Screwtape refers to as the Enemy), note how gleefully Screwtape himself embraces the division of pacifists and patriots in wartime England:
Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his
religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to
regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse
him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the
“cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of
Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which
temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once
you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost
won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly
end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies,
movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers
and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on
those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty
cageful down here,
Your affectionate uncle
I think what unsettles me most about that passage is how easily Screwtape twists the man’s faith to convince him to pursue a worldly division and forget the true importance in his faith.
In these next passages, I find one of the best arguments for keeping track of our blessings daily, as they come to us in our present, because they arm us against fear and anxiety about the future and remind us of the right way to think of the future:
But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an
imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy’s
commands in the present if by so doing we can make him think he can
attain the one or avert the other—dependent for his faith on the success
or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole
race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind,
nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the
altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.
We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which
favoured heroes attain—not something which everyone reaches at the
rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is … (130)
Friends, if you find yourself stuck at “the altar of the future” – whether elated or desperate by the outcome of the election and what that might mean in terms of your past or future – please step back and consider what is more important: being aware of and grateful of every real gift offered to us in our present.
Will you join Wendy and me (and many others) who are turning Facebook into a throng of gratitude statements instead of filling it with hurtful words? If you don’t have Facebook or prefer a different method of identifying your gratitude, will you commit to keeping track of the blessings in your life?
My hope is that the act of keeping the list will protect you from being hag-ridden, as Lewis describes it, by either the fear of the future or the worries of the past. I’d love to know how this act during the rest of November changes you.