C.S. Lewis, in his address “Learning in War-Time” outlines several rivals to our work–things that make it hard to be productive, especially when there is significant societal disruption taking place (like a war). The first he calls “excitement,” by which he’s referring to the endless distractions that we encounter on a daily basis. You can read more here.
The second enemy is frustration. Here, he notes that we can be tempted not to work because we can be overwhelmed by the fact that there isn’t enough time–life’s too short to do all the things we’d like to do. You can read more here.
The third rival to our work is fear. Now, Lewis is speaking specifically of the fear of pain and death. How do you focus, when you’re worried about the war–when you see terrible images in the newspapers, when you’re daily concerned about the safety of your country?
His answer is counterintuitive. He argues that war doesn’t change the death rate–that remains 100%. The main difference is that war makes the fact of our death much harder to ignore–which previous generations of Christians believed to be a gift–to be daily reminded of one’s mortality can have a focusing effect. Each day matters more. Each task. Each conversation. Each hug. Each treasured experience. So, he argues, far from necessarily distracting us from meaningful work and relationship–the more vivid reminders of our own mortality may actually sharpen our focus to good ends.
This is not intended to belittle our grief. Though, on the face, it may have that effect. I think the main reason death in youth (a particular problem with war) is so desperately difficult is because of how hard it is on loved ones who survive. So many more hopes and dreams perish. Lives are forever marked by loss. Celebrations are always accompanied by thoughts of what might have been. Lewis of course, is no stranger to this. He lost his mother to cancer when he was only nine years old and reflected on it saying, “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” He went on to pen his classic A Grief Observed following the death of his wife–a treasured consolation to countless readers.
The Good News of Christianity teaches us that death doesn’t get the final word. Christ is raised from the dead–He will have the final word. We may grieve bitterly–but with hope. Hope that we will be raised and restored to our beloved friends and family members who have preceded us in death. In the meantime, Lord help us to take one day at a time. Help us to love well. Help us to grieve with hope.