Lewis: “Keep Thyself in Peace”

C. S. Lewis was just as human as the rest of us. Perhaps some of us have a tendency to think that such a great thinker, writer, and teacher—and who was famous enough to merit being the subject of a Time magazine cover—wouldn’t have too many “bumps” in his life or become weary of well-doing. Not true.

That magazine cover is from 1947. By that time, he had become a household name in Britain due to his BBC broadcasts during WWII and had written some of his most bracing works: The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters (the book highlighted by the magazine cover), The Great Divorce, his space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength), and a little book so full of insight that some consider it his finest work, The Abolition of Man. In the year after being honored by Time, he published Miracles, another classic.

Yet we find him writing to one of his regular correspondents, Don Giovanni Calabria, in January 1949, confessing that his best years are probably behind him.

As for my own work, I would not wish to deceive you with vain hope. I am now in my fiftieth year. I feel my zeal for writing, and whatever talent I originally possessed, to be decreasing; nor (I believe) do I please my readers as I used to.

He then related the trial of living in a home with an aged “adopted” mother who required his daily care. We know from other letters that she was pretty much a tyrant at this stage of her life, demanding his constant attention. He asked his friend to pray for him “that I ever bear in mind that profoundly true maxim: ‘if thou wish to bring others peace, keep thyself in peace.'” He realized the need for that vital connection with God to maintain inner peace and the strength to do all that was required.

Lewis was no ivory-towered intellectual (the great fault of the film Shadowlands, which attempted to depict him in that way). He lived a life of great stress. He continued in his letter,

These things I write not as complaints but lest you should believe I am writing books. If it shall please God that I write more books, blessed be He. If it shall please Him not, again, blessed be He.

Perhaps it will be the most wholesome thing for my soul that I lose both fame and skill lest I were to fall into that evil disease, vainglory.

Despite Lewis’s resignation as to his future—or maybe because he was at the point of complete resignation—God wasn’t done with him by any means.

The very next year, the first of his seven Narnia books—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—appeared. The next six followed in each of the succeeding years. His BBC broadcasts were pulled together into Mere Christianity, another perennial favorite that will never go out of print. His autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and his favorite of his novels, Till We Have Faces, followed. Reflections on the Psalms and The Four Loves brought the decade of the 1950s to a close, with the latter published in 1960.

I think the reason this topic appeals to me today is that I’m experiencing the same feelings about my future writing. Over the past few years, I’ve had two books published, but I now have no direction for the future in that regard. My daily life is filled with requirements that keep me from doing any more serious, in-depth writing. In the fall, I’ll be teaching five courses at my university (and revising courses this summer), grading homeschoolers, teaching at my church on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, and constantly preparing for the next round. As with Lewis, I’m not complaining because I love the opportunities. But I sure would like a slower pace in order to devote myself to the kind of research and writing I enjoy.

So what’s the takeaway? I can’t say it any better than Lewis did: “If it shall please God that I write more books, blessed be He. If it shall please Him not, again, blessed be He.”

In the meantime, I have this blog as an outlet, and I want to use it for His glory.

If you are at a place similar to where Lewis was in 1949, keep in mind that the Lord wants you, first of all, to be at peace with Him, and He will direct your path. That’s a great lesson for us all.