I’m lucky enough to be allowed to plug in to my music at my desk job, which helps immensely when I’m trying to keep my mind off of my personal life while I’m on the clock. Lately, though, I’ve been listening to C. S. Lewis audiobooks instead of music.
Depending on current circumstances, Lewis speaks to me in different ways. Certain quotes or passages will jump out at me to touch my life as it is at the exact moment I read or hear them, and sometimes what he writes does move me to tears. So it was when I was listening to The Four Loves the other day. Luckily I was already home by then, having been too caught up in that venerable Belfastian baritone to have silenced it on my walk home from work, so nobody had to witness the rather unattractive display of crying.
Discussing St Augustine’s observations that,
All creatures are temporary. It’s the very nature of the universe that all individuals should pass away and make room for others. … To give one’s heart to a created being is therefore to court disaster. If love is to mean in the long run happiness, not misery, it must mean love for the only Beloved that does not pass away;
Lewis went on his discourse of agape, or the love of God for man and man for God, to say, “A broken and contrite heart awaits, most surely, those who follow that road most faithfully.” This frank statement about the difficulty of loving God above all else made me reflect on another passage he had written in The Screwtape Letters: “Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
There are many lines of Scripture wherein God tells us that the road to Heaven is not, by any means, easy. Who hasn’t been made aware of going through narrow gates, chaff being separated from wheat, persecution by armed enemies, testing gold in fiery furnaces, and wandering in the desert? And who hasn’t been confused by the Word of the Lord in these instances? Yet God speaks plainly if you listen to Him intently. Each example illustrates the intense amount of effort it will take for us to overcome the crippling elements of the human condition before we can cross the holy threshold of His door.
But listening intently to God means listening to everything He has to say. And for every line of Scripture telling us of the hardships of our faith, there’s something to be said about what good will come from enduring each one. On the other side of the narrow gates lies a city of paradise. Freed from chaff, wheat may become flour to make nourishing bread. Those who suffer for God will have their wounds tended by His mercy. Gold becomes pure and dazzlingly beautiful, and shows its true measure of worth and value. The desert eventually gives way to an oasis, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Plainly put, God gives us fair warning about the difficulties that lie ahead should we choose to follow Him, and lets us decide in the end if we will or if we will not…but He doesn’t just leave it at that even when we cast the dice.
He gives us the milestones and signposts to guide us along that high road home. They can be found and identified in every level of our existence. In the mundane tasks of ordinary days, in the ways we pass our spare time, in our friends and families and acquaintances, in the experiences from which we grow and learn, and in the ways we choose to revere and love God through worship and participation in the Sacraments, we are never left entirely to our own devices. Not even those who neither believe in any higher power nor practise any religion are abandoned: we all are given some kind of compass to help us on our way.
Of the Four Loves, Lewis states that all wish to call the objects of their affection, “Mine” — yet is only agape as it comes from God towards His creation that can truly say this. God is love, and it is out of His perfect love for all creation that He warns us of the difficulties in following Him. It is out of that same love that He gives all the tools and resources and graces we might need to keep moving forward. One’s heart may be broken in pursuit of His will, but when that will is fulfilled by a heart purely joyful and joyfully pure that chooses to endure and persevere for the sake of that perfect love…oh, what healing and wholeness surely awaits that broken and contrite heart!