You Can't Get What You Want If You Want It Too Desperately
Dear New Covenant Family,
On Sunday I mentioned C.S. Lewis’ struggle with the “absence of God” while he was grieving the death of his wife. He wrote in A Grief Observed, “Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
That was in Chapter One. Last night I read the rest of the story. In Chapter Three Lewis inches toward a resolution.
He discovered one morning, several weeks after his wife’s death, that something quite unexpected had happened. When he awoke, he found his heart lighter than it had been for many weeks. There were a variety of plausible explanations. For one, he had been suffering sheer physical exhaustion through all the months that had led up to his wife’s death, caring for her in her excruciating illness. Finally he had gotten some rest. On top of that, the weather had shifted--the sun was shining and a light breeze was refreshing the atmosphere. “And suddenly,” he writes, “at the very moment when, so far, I mourned [her] least, I remembered her best... It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.”
That wasn’t the end of Lewis’ sorrow--no, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a brief “lifting of the sorrow.” And he gleaned a helpful lesson from it. He learned that frantic emotions can temporarily diminish our capacity to receive what God is able and willing to give us. Here it is, in Lewis’ own words:
You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks to importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.
And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.
But didn’t Jesus teach us, “Knock and it shall be opened”?
Yes. “But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?,” replies Lewis. After all, we must have a capacity to receive--and “perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.”
Are you desperate for God to do something in your life right now? Do you feel like you are drowning in your distress? Are you lashing about in the waves, oblivious to the fact that your Rescuer is near?
When I was twenty, I never had trouble sleeping. Now that my age has (more than) doubled, I know what it’s like to feel very tired but be unable to sleep. And the more I tell myself, “You need to get some sleep!”, the worse it gets. Rest doesn’t come easily until you stop thinking about how much you need it.
Could it be that God is calling you to be still? Remember how the LORD spoke to Elijah in his distress:
And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ (1 Kings 19:11b-13).
Are you quiet enough to hear the Lord whisper?
“The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5). He is “a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut. 30:14).
But maybe your heart is too noisy to hear his voice. What shall you do?
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him... Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:7a, 8b). “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation... For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:1, 5). “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2).
Still, my soul, be still...