How can we have good cheer when our lives are turned upside down? This is not a speculative question but one everyone faces at some point.
By Harry Lee Poe
A few hours before the Romans drove spikes into his hands and legs to crucify him, Jesus told His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b, KJV). How can we have good cheer when our lives are turned upside down? How could Jesus say that He had overcome the world when the world was about to kill Him? These are not just speculative questions; they refer to situations everyone faces at some point in life.
C.S. Lewis serves as a prime example of someone who had more than his share of disappointments, hardships, and suffering—especially in the last 20 years of his life. He is known as the most effective Christian apologist of the 20th century who played a part in untold numbers of people coming to faith in Christ. Almost all of his books are still in print nearly sixty years after his death. Although he always worried about having enough money to support his family, Lewis’s estate is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In his personal life, however, Lewis knew great difficulties.
As an officer in World War I, Lewis was critically injured by friendly artillery fire. His injuries removed him from the war in the spring of 1918, and he was not released from the convalescent hospital until Christmas Eve of that year, over a month after the war ended. His injuries never completely healed, and he still had shrapnel in his chest slowly making its way toward his heart when his doctors finally operated to remove the remaining pieces in 1944. The war also left psychological scars—what we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Trouble after the war
Lewis discovered the cost of discipleship as a tutor in English Literature at Oxford University. Though he published several major scholarly books that had a major impact on his field, delivered a number of major guest lectures at other universities including Cambridge and Durham, and published a number of significant scholarly articles in the leading academic journals of his field, Lewis was passed over for a university professorship on the grounds that he only wrote popular Christian pieces. It would be more accurate to say that because he wrote popular Christian pieces, the committee ignored his major academic contributions.Because he wrote popular Christian pieces, Oxford University ignored C.S. Lewis' major academic contributions and passed him over for a professorship, according to Harry Lee Poe. Click To Tweet
While Lewis worked hard at the university and spent his evening hours writing his Christian books, he had a most distressing home life. His best friend in the Officer Training Corps before going to serve in the trenches of France had been killed in World War I. Lewis took care of his friend’s mother, Mrs. Moore, for the rest of her life, which proved to be over thirty years. Mrs. Moore was a highly disagreeable, argumentative, dictatorial woman who kept the household in a constant state of distress. The stress on Lewis proved too much for his system, and in 1948 he was hospitalized near death. He would live with high blood pressure for the next fifteen years of his life.
Also complicating his life was his older brother who also lived with Lewis. He loved his brother Warnie dearly, but Warnie suffered with severe alcoholism after World War II. It had been a problem in check for years, but as Mrs. Moore slipped toward dementia and her fits of temper grew worse, Warnie drank more. He could be fine for months at a time but then slip into a binge that would lead to hospitalization. Care for Warnie taxed Lewis’s time, but it also had financial implications every time he stayed in the hospital.
Trouble in relationships
One might think writing his seven children’s books that form The Chronicles of Narnia series would have brought Lewis nothing but joy. Instead, they came with a mixture of sorrow. J.R.R. Tolkien had been one of Lewis’s best friends since 1925. Tolkien played a major role in Lewis’s conversion, and the two friends had formed a writing club around 1933 called “The Inklings.” “The Inklings” included a few others who provided the mutual encouragement that helped Lewis and Tolkien write some of their most important books. When Lewis began writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, however, Tolkien hated it and couldn’t say enough bad things about it. “The Inklings” ceased meeting in the evenings as a writing club. Few things could have hurt Lewis more than the loss of a cherished friend, but after this, Tolkien had little time for Lewis.Despite having previously encouraged each other in their writing, J.R.R. Tolkien hated C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, which strained their friendship, according to Harry Lee Poe. Click To Tweet
In 1956, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham after a strange courtship. In fact, Lewis didn’t regard this civil marriage as a true marriage. It was only a legal formality that allowed him to extend his British citizenship to Gresham. By the end of the year, however, she had contracted cancer. After a number of months in the hospital, they had a Christian marriage ceremony as Joy lay in her hospital bed. Eventually, she entered remission, which lasted for three years, and came home as Mrs. C.S. Lewis.
Joy in Christ
In 1960, Joy’s cancer returned, and she was dead by July. As is common among people who have lost someone they love, Lewis plunged into deep despair. He kept a diary of this period and published it as A Grief Observed. But the book does not end in despair.During the grief of losing his wife, C.S. Lewis learned to pray. Only after that dark period was Lewis able to write a book dealing with prayer, according to Harry Lee Poe. Click To Tweet
Like Job, Lewis learned to pray during his horrible grief. Only after he went through it was he finally able to write a book on prayer, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, which was not published until the year after Lewis died. As for his own slow death which involved a number of complications, he paid little attention. By then, he had learned the lesson of Paul:
“I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, CSB).
Harry Lee Poe
Harry (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University, where he has taught a course on C. S. Lewis for over twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including The Inklings of Oxford and The Completion of C. S. Lewis.