C.S. Lewis on Grieving


It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are ‘taken out of ourselves’ by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow, or our relief from sorrow, or our own love.
From, A Grief Observed

Lewis was writing about loosing his wife Joy to cancer only four years after they were married, in April, 1956. Though the calendar declared their marriage brief, Jack and Joy had enjoyed the deepest of friendships since at least 1952. Truth be told, their marriage began as a contract of convenience, as their love was anything but convenient. If you’re interested in the whole story, read, A Grief Observed, in which he chronicles his passage through the grieving process and its correlation with his observations of the world’s pain from, The Problem of Pain.

The Problem of Happiness

Marriage isn’t about happiness. Neither is love, or any other part of life. Happiness, joy, and all the other good things are simply some of life’s consequences, like sadness, injury, and all the other bad stuff. While each of those examples begins with something happening to you, not all of them are your own doing. As the saying goes, “stuff happens.”

That said, your reactions to life’s “stuff,” and not the “stuff” itself, determine what you get out of it. Tragedy, for instance, is never fun, unless you’re a masochist. And there’s nothing wrong with your natural, emotional reactions to both pain and pleasure, as long as you don’t confuse those reactions with the things that cause them. The idiot who ran the red light and clipped your rear fender caused your sore neck and auto repair bills, but he didn’t cause your furious anger and desire for revenge. Like “stuff,” idiots happen. It’s all part of life, and rarely a personal affront. Take it personally, and you spite yourself.

Happiness never proceeds from your natural, human reactions to life’s “stuff.” While temperance and forgiveness seem completely inadequate when you’ve been done wrong, your ultimate happiness (as opposed to satisfaction) depends on them. That’s why Apostle Paul wrote, “In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun set on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) Jesus gave us his Divine Prescription for Happiness in Matthew 5:1-12. When you read them, you’ll see they are big pills to swallow, but no shortcut exists for happiness. It’s like liquid mercury; try to grab it directly and it skitters away, but the slight residue it leaves on your skin is toxic.

The door to lasting happiness has a pick-proof lock, and its key can’t be copied. That key is obedience to God’s New Testament principles and commandments.

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One thought on “C.S. Lewis on Grieving

  1. Interesting piece. I like what you have to say about the only person who can really make us upset is us and even if we do get upset, it’s not outside of our control, God’s already given us means to control ourselves. I think it’s easy for me to remember that with small things, like someone clipping me off at a red light, but difficult with larger things, like death. Hopefully, with a little spiritual maturation I can reach the stage where my reaction to the two is not so far apart.

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