Lessons from "The Screwtape Letters"

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The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis has been on my want-to-read list for years. The fact that my teen boys were reading it this week for their English class made it the perfect time for me to finally cross it off my to-do list. Written in 1941, it is a fictional portrayal of a devil (Screwtape) guiding his nephew (Wormwood) through the process of tempting and drawing a soul to eternal damnation.

The book offers much food for thought, but there were a couple of points that really spoke to me and my current position in life.

In Letter XXI, Screwtape talks about how humans get irritable when their plans for their time are impinged upon. “They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels it is being stolen.” Screwtape points out what a fallacy this is: “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.” He goes on to explain that we frequently suffer from this sense of ownership, whether it be of our bodies, other people, or material objects. Sometimes we even think of God as “my God.”

How true this is and how much we (I) need that reminder. None of us is here of our own free will. None of us can take a breath without God allowing it. The time I have this day has been given to me from God and while I have a responsibility to use it well as much as I am able, who am I to object when he has different plans for my day? By the same token, all we have, including our family members, friends, pets, jobs, houses and all the stuff in them also rightfully belong to God. We are temporary caretakers, stewards of the earth, with a role to play in bringing about the kingdom of God. In the midst of the busyness of life, we should strive to never lose sight of the One who is truly in charge.

In Letter XXVI, Screwtape talks about unselfishness and how men and women view this topic differently. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times in my life I have wondered why men are so selfish. Can’t they see all that needs to get done? I’ve pondered whether it is some genetic marker on the Y chromosome or a societal construct or if the men I’ve encountered are simply personally deficient in that regard (I’ve heard rumors that there are men out there that do not fit this mold). This is the first time I’ve ever heard it explained like this:

“A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. . . .Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious reason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.”

So, this is simply one more instance of the sexes not understanding each other. That makes sense. The longer I live, especially having had the benefit of raising male children, I realize more and more how different men and women truly are. In a perfect world, that complementarity would create a perfect union. However, we live in an imperfect, sinful world where misunderstandings and wounded feelings seem much more likely to be the order of the day. This insight from a male writer helps me to understand that this behavior on the part of men is not personal, which somehow makes it a bit easier to take. In fact, the idea that men also consider us women selfish is quite an eye opener. While I don’t plan to stop doing for others anytime soon, it is a reminder that not everyone sees the world the way I do and that it is important to give others the benefit of the doubt, instead of thinking the worst of them.

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Copyright 2017 Patrice Fagnant MacArthur

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About Author

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is a life-long Roman Catholic, homeschooling mom of two boys and an adopted young girl. The editor of Today’s Catholic Homeschooling, she is also the author of “The Catholic Baby Name Book” and “Letters to Mary from a Young Mother,” and has a Master’s Degree in Applied Theology. She blogs at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com

3 Comments

  1. I’m reading this with my kids right now! I’ve wanted to for years. It is above some of them (because of the flowery language), but we discuss each chapter. I think it is just as important for them to understand evil and how evil works, as it is to understand Good and how He works in our lives. Hopefully an awareness will give them more tools to remain in God’s way after they leave home and are faced with so many decisions. And, of course, it is great for me too!

  2. I’ve read this a couple times and plan to dive back in again soon. Lewis is so gifted at revealing true human nature–here, in Narnia, and in his nonfiction. Thanks for sharing your perspective on it! There is a play adaptation I have been wanting to see for years! May God bless you!

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