One important way to get a handle on disappointment in our lives is to be able to take a higher perspective. Somebody who understood this well was the author C. S. Lewis. In 1942 he wrote the book The Screwtape Letters that has since then been continuously in print. It has been adapted into plays, made into a comic book, and recorded as an audio drama by the actor John Cleese. The Hollywood Film company Fox owns the film rights, and Ralph Winter, best known for blockbusters like “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” has said he will produce it.
The novel is a fictional account of a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon called Screwtape to a junior demon, Wormwood. It is a powerful perspective on the real life challenges of faith in God and handling disappointment. In the novel, God is the enemy. We eavesdrop on the schemes and strategy of two devils in the mind of a human being, described as ‘the patient’. While being fiction, it provides piercing insight into the challenges we face in day-to-day life while pointing us to a higher spiritual perspective.
Modern 21st century secular thinking tends to have no place for the realm of a higher order of evil let alone for the existence of God. However, it is worth reflecting on that most of mankind has believed in the supernatural power of evil for much of history. There is also little else available to explain the power and rise of evil regimes and forces during the course of human history from the rise of Nazi Germany to the current horrors of North Korea.
The following short excerpt provides a powerful insight into disappointment:
“My dear Wormwood,
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian…In the meantime we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s Camp and are now with us. All of the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour…
Work hard then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.
It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by stories from the Odyssey buckles down to learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every disappointment of life it marks the transition from dreamy aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants – ‘sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnecessary liaisons with the two-legged animals.
Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them; He leaves them to ‘do it on their own’. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt…”
This brief excerpt is a powerful reminder to me that all of our lives have deep meaningful significance. It may not at all be apparent in the moment. The choices and decisions we make also have significant consequences. What appear to be setbacks and disappointments can also be the stepping stones to greater awareness, insight and ultimately true success.
How does having a greater perspective and the excerpt help you with disappointment?