Lessons from C.S. Lewis: Don’t let your mind drearily flicker

“The Screwtape Letters.” Friday, April 8, 2022.
(Photo by: Victoria Mills)
“The Screwtape Letters.” Friday, April 8, 2022. (Photo by: Victoria Mills)

The first books I read by C.S. Lewis were those in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. I had known about them for a while, and then one day I found the whole collection in one volume in one of my family’s many bookshelves. I dove headfirst into the world of C.S. Lewis’ writings. 

A couple of years later, my friend in the academy, Natalie, showed me her Christmas present: another collection of C.S. Lewis’ writings, this one including more of his nonfiction, apologetic books. However, there was one fiction book in the collection, and Natalie urged me to read it. It was called “The Screwtape Letters.”

It was the most convicting book I had ever read. After almost every sentence, I felt like I needed to stop and reread it, not because it was hard to understand, but because there was so much to unpack, so much truth staring me in the face. It was one of those books that I wanted to reread the second I finished it. 

The premise of “Screwtape” is very unique for not only a fiction book, but also for spiritually enriching commentary. The book is a collection of “letters” written from an evil angel to his nephew, another evil angel who is tasked with securing the damnation of his “patient,” a young man living in England during World War I. 

Screwtape, the uncle, offers advice, rebukes and explanations to Wormwood, the nephew. Since it’s from the perspective opposite to Christianity, everything is turned on its head. It’s a very unfamiliar take on the familiar theme of the Great Controversy that many of us have grown up reading and hearing about. 

Screwtape discusses everything from prayer to food to temptation to sex to war. It’s a unique way to explore not only spiritual issues and challenges, but those of life itself.  

Fast forward to last semester. Through a lot of prayer, I decided to start a LifeGroup that studied “The Screwtape Letters” in depth. Since then my group members and I have really enjoyed reading and discussing. 

Like I said before, this book can be enjoyed over and over again. And there is one particular chapter that I keep going back to.

Chapter 12 starts with Screwtape congratulating Wormwood on doing well (which, remember, means the “patient” is not doing well spiritually). He then cautions Wormwood to make sure that the “patient” doesn’t wake up and realize how bad he’s doing. He must have so many distractions that he is unaware of his condition and just has a “vague … feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.” 

Then Screwtape goes deeper, describing this terrifying mindset that isn’t even terrifying if one is experiencing it because of its stupor-like quality. He says it’s strong, “…strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why … in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.”

I almost wish I could include the whole chapter in here, but I’ll just touch on one more subject. In one of the most convicting sections of the chapter, Screwtape talks of spiritual and religious duties. He says: 

“In this state your patient will not omit, but he will increasingly dislike, his religious duties.” 

Then, “A few weeks ago you had to tempt him to unreality and inattention in his prayers: But now you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart.” 

Read that sentence again. 

What an utterly relatable and frightening thought. I’ve had trouble feeling distracted during prayer many times, and the thought that sometimes I welcome those distractions makes me want to immediately reevaluate my relationship with God and give Him control. I can’t keep my mind on Him if I am relying solely on myself. But, thankfully, He has the strength to fix my mind on Him. I pray that I’m never unaware of Him and His love for me.

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