Currently, I am immersed in C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters, digging into every page of every letter with my high school writing class. In the Preface, he brilliantly exhorts, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar” (Lewis, ix).
“Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise,
and speak unto them all that I command thee:
be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.”
Jeremiah [1:17] (KJV)
This week, much to Mr. Lewis’s chagrin, I took the devil too seriously. After speaking to a large group of bright young men and women on the campus of The University of Richmond, the devil gained a foothold in my mind. Well, actually, during my presentation. Breaking one of the most important speaking rules (Jeremiah 1:7 KJV), I reacted, internally, to a face that one young man made when I was explaining that “blessed” actually means “happy.” His face disarmed me in the respect that I began doubting my material. With a slightly quizzical look on his face, I thought, “Oh no, did I make a mistake? Does blessed not mean happy? Why is he making that doubting face?” At that very moment, Doubt walked in and began slowly unsettling the week’s preparations. Already “under the weather” physically, having returned from a trip to Kansas with a very unfriendly bug, I became bombarded with inner lightning strikes of doubt, fear, and confusion. Shortly thereafter, I fumbled my words during a very critical point in the teaching. Knowing I had NOT interpreted this portion of teaching correctly, I tried to move on and finish the course with some sense of clarity.
Later that night, right as I was walking out the door, a young man flagged me down and asked if I had five minutes. “Certainly,” I smiled as I put down my heavy bag, unaware of the forthcoming storm. For the next forty minutes or so, a heated debate or should I say assessment of my theology, which was pretty one-sided, ensued. Without going into any details, his “assessment”—which was pretty tough— added even more fuel to my already-feeling-bad–sinking-spirits about the delivery of the message. Several times during our conversation, he commented, “Thank you for being patient with an arrogant eighteen-year-old. I know your message helped so many people, and I know I am being antagonistic, but I wanted to talk to you about this. And, by the way, what do you think of _____________?” At that moment, when he asked my opinion of a very well-known preacher, I kindly refused any comment, and excused myself. He hailed his apologies as I walked out.
Normally, I don’t talk about these things on my blog, but due to the fact that I am in the midst of a book project on unity in the body of Christ, and therefore, very sensitive about the subject, I feel as though I must. Engaging in lively conversation about the Scripture is one thing, but when the undercurrent is antagonistic or trying to disprove or discredit someone, the tide changes. Being held accountable for the teaching of God’s Word is something I invite, but when this seeming, loving rebuke is really just about proving a point or being right, it becomes divisive.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function
as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
My one and a half hour ride home become a very, very long exercise in self-pity. My mind transformed into a battle zone. You think you are helping. What a joke. The next few days, as I recovered physically, I literally closed the blinds of my home, and recovered emotionally and spiritually.
This young man’s comments, which really were the straw that broke the camel’s back, led me to a fierce examination of my abilities, calling, and direction. I knew I had two choices: resign from public ministry in order to avoid any more scrutiny or resolve to sift the chaff from the wheat of this young man’s comments, in order to sharpen my teaching skills and trust that God will be glorified through any/all of my strengths and weaknesses. If I chose to take the devil too seriously, I would quit. BUT, by God’s grace, I won’t. In the midst of it all, Theodore Roosevelt offered this advice:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points
out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man
who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again;
because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed;
who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion,
who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement
and who at the worst, if he fails,
at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall
never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
At the end of the day, my conclusion was this: If I fail, I will fail while daring greatly. One thing is for sure, I will fail again. BUT, next time, I hope that I won’t take it too seriously, only seriously enough to make all necessary changes. Perhaps you have had a few days like I had this week. Days where you wanted to throw in the towel. Days where the volume of Satan’s whispers of defeat and discouragement became louder than the roar of a lion. IF so, will you join me in asking the Father of Lies to shut up? To move on. To pick on someone his own size. Let’s open the blinds of our minds and hearts and let the Son shine in. It’s a new day. A brand new day, full of hope, grace, and fresh starts!