You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether, of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say ‘“No time for that,” “Too late now,” and “Not for me”… A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue of your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.
C. S. Lewis “Learning in Wartime
I was not expecting what I found in this little essay, and I was pleasantly surprised. In “Learning in Wartime”, Lewis addresses the concerns of people in his day (and in any age) about the wisdom of learning, growing, loving, doing when we were all going to die anyway. That is not exactly how they phrased it nor how we phrase it today and to ourselves. But that is what we mean at the heart of it, and Lewis explains why this is wrong.
Lewis is writing with the Great War and the one that followed in mind. We refer to many people from that generation as the Lost Generation because they largely lost themselves to the nihilism that followed those wars. While we got many a great poet, artist, and author from that generation (and I will admit, I enjoy much though not all of the art from this time), the people who created and did these things lost their sense of purpose and their foundation of all that they held to be true and good, namely God.
Thus, for those listening, nihilism prevailed, and instead of saying let’s live for tomorrow we die, they focused just on the death and did until they died without really accomplishing anything. To what purpose do we live? There is always something to do, places to be, and never any time for making, enjoying, and wondering at what sort of existence God has planned for you.
Perhaps it seems like a stretch, but all too often we find any excuse we can to not do something. I don’t mean that we avoid work, but that we avoid the good. As Lewis writes, “we shall be waiting for some distraction or other to end” and then, we tell ourselves, we’ll get to the good stuff.
But the Lord has created within us a desire to know, to love, to enjoy, to see the good and beautiful and glorify Him in it. Lewis acknowledges the seemingly apparent problem in fooling with seemingly trivial things such as learning and history and art when there’s a war going on! Indeed, as he also admits, it seems odd that we would spend our time doing anything but warn of hell when we may at any moment be faced with judgement. And that last one is a sobering thought, so we should pray and encourage and preach the gospel as our short days are evil.
Yet we were made for more than this. God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and sound mind. This is obviously in relation to the Gospel, but did God give us our senses for nothing? Did He give us talents and gifts to squander them from day in to day out? Does He not call us to do His work wherever and and in whatever that calling may be? Vocation is our word for it, but calling often works just as well.
I love to read, if that has not been made obvious. I also love to write, even if I don’t get to it as often as I’d like. I also paint, draw, sew, crochet, sing, teach, learn. I do all these things and more. I cook and clean and care for those God has given me. But all of them can be, should be, are done to the glory of something, and that something is God. Though, I will admit that I often fail at that last one. Too often the glory of self happens, so this calls for humility. I will be doing something, and I should not waste it worrying about tomorrow or doing the things I was not called to, but instead should serve God in whatever I am doing, be that painting or cooking or loving.
God has given each of us gifts to serve Him, and He doesn’t expect for us to squander them as the man with one talent. As Paul writes and Lewis quotes, “We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation.” Our learning will be done whether we like it or not. Our doing will be done as well. But to whom shall we live? Shall we live to the uncertain future and dilly dally our life away in fear of what may or may not come next? As James writes, our life is a breath, a mist, a fleeting vapor. But God calls us to live and to do “everything as if serving the Lord.” We seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added as well. Wars will come, death will meet us, and the drudge of the day will seem to overwhelm. But our life is more than this. God has blessed us with more than this. Let us seek Him in our talents and vocation. We should be doing that anyway. We are new creations, but we are still us as God has made us. He didn’t give us our gifts and desire for leaning for naught. He wants us to learn more about Him and to make Him known. Yes, life is short, but eternity is long. Let us live lives worthy of the calling to which we profess. Let us ask the Lord for our daily bread and work for Him. Let us enjoy the beauty He has made, let us love and build and learn and grow and glorify Him in all that we say and do.
Blessings to you and yours,