Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Screwtape Letters (XII)"

In chapter XII of The Screwtape Letters, I was most struck by how the devil uses the formation of small, seemingly insignificant habits to worsen our relationship with God. As I read this letter, something my track coach once told me came to mind. It was towards the beginning of the season and my coach stopped me for a few minutes and asked me about some of the goals I was setting for myself that season. He explained that in order to reach my goals, I would have to make a habit of working hard each and every day. In order to be in shape and improve as a runner, it is important that you work hard every day in practice, during races, in the weight room. It is necessary to eat healthy, sleep enough, and exercise daily. He emphasized that as soon as a person started to skip practice or stay out too late the night before a meet, not only would it hurt them for the short amount of time surrounding their “bad behavior," but it made it much easier the next time they were considering similar behavior, to go ahead and do it. As we were leaving the track and walking back to the school building, my coach told me that this principle applies to our faith life as well as our exercise regimes. When I asked him what he meant, he explained that just as in the process of conditioning for a sport, we need to set aside time every day in order to work on our relationship with God. Time for prayer and devotions should be a daily habit. Also, just as in the “athletic world,” once we skip one day of prayer, devotions, or church attendance, it is that much easier to skip again the next time the opportunity comes along again.

Lewis expresses this idea when Screwtape congratulates his nephew on his success on leading a “patient” away from the Lord.

"As the condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do."

Reading this piece and remembering my coach’s words to me served as a good reminder to be on my guard against the formation of bad habits. This is something which struck close to home because I have seen it in my own life. I struggle very much with feeling too busy to really give a significant amount of time to my devotions during the day. I have this overwhelming feeling that if I take just an hour or even a half an hour to read my Bible, pray, and listen for God’s voice, I will get behind on homework or miss a movie I was really hoping to see. Another struggle for me is that when I do get spare time, I’d rather sit and do something which requires very little thought or effort such as watch a TV show or go on Facebook, than spend time with God. I have already formed a bad habit of at times skipping my devotions for less important things such as the internet, TV, reading, or homework. This reading helped me realize that these are not harmless errors, but an important and destructive habit of which I am called to rid myself.

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