I recently reread one of my favorite books, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. And I found that he spends quite a bit of time talking about the theme of my blog — finding our true selves in the people God created us to be. I didn’t purposefully have Lewis in mind when I wrote that tagline, but I’d read Mere Christianity before and I’m sure that’s partly where the idea came from.
Yesterday, I was struggling to come up with an idea for today’s post. It’s hard to go wrong talking about C.S. Lewis, so I thought I’d share some of what he has to say about finding the truest versions of ourselves. Of course, given the sort of man that he was, it is impossible for him to talk about such a topic without pointing readers to God.
“The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented—as an author invents characters in a novel—all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. … I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call ‘me’ can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” — Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
It’s an interesting concept. That no matter how hard we might try on our own to be an individual, authentic self we will actually be moving away from our real personalities if we are not moving toward God. As the inventor of personality, God is the one best qualified to tell us what we are meant to be. It’s the potter and clay analogy — that God is the potter who decides what sort of vessel He is making us to be (Is. 29:15-16; Jer. 18:1-6).
A choice to be different
Perhaps this sounds like it goes against free will. It does not. The very fact that we can reject God and try to be something other than what He intends attests to Him giving us a choice. But choosing anything other than Him just means we’re crippling our self-expression and rejecting the greatest path to personal growth. Finding ourselves shouldn’t be our focus, though. In fact, getting too caught-up in the self is a good way to lose track of our truest personality. Read more →
My first panic attack happened in a Blockbuster about 14 or 15 years ago. I was high-school age and trying to spend a gift card I’d won in a library reading program. I hadn’t been in there before and new places made me nervous, but I’d planned exactly what I was looking for and my mom and sister were with me so it was going to be fine. Then the DVD wasn’t there. And I can’t make up my mind what to do, my mom wants me to hurry up because we’re running late, my sister says just make a decision already, and suddenly I can’t breath so I grab a DVD march up to the counter, and get out. Then my family asks why I was rude to the cashier and seem so angry.
It didn’t feel like anger. My heart was racing, hands shaking, breathing shallow. I felt hot all over and my skin seemed too small. But other than embarrassing, I didn’t know what it was. And then it happened again months later in a Hobby Lobby. I’d worked up the courage to ask about a price that seemed too high, which lead to a confrontation with the manager and the realization that I was the one who’d read the sign wrong. Again the tightness in my chest, the shallow breathing, the shaking, and too-warm feeling. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
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Realizing I Had Anxiety
I’m not sure exactly when I began to suspect I was dealing with an anxiety disorder. In June of 2013 I wrote on this blog, “I’m not very good at letting go of my anxiety.” But I was still thinking of it more in the sense of “I worry too much” rather than “a psychologist would say I have anxiety.” I started feeling guilty for thinking of myself as anxious, especially when people who knew they had anxiety started following my blog and I realized mine didn’t seem as bad as theirs. Maybe I was just a wimp who was overeating to normal, everyday worries. Read more →
I realized after my last Classics Club post that I’m bad at writing book reviews. I’d intended to just write a short “this is what the books are like, this is what I thought” post for Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels but it turned into an essay on what makes a strong female character and the state of modern feminism. I think I’ll give up on book reviews. Apparently I can only write thoughtful, rambling essays.
That’s not a bad thing though, right? These are classics, after all. People have been writing reviews of them for decades or centuries. If you want to find out about the plot you can go on Goodreads. I’d much rather talk about the ideas prompted by these great books. And I think you might rather read about that, too.
NOTE: this post contains spoilers but not enough, I think, to ruin the book for you
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A Perfect Fantasy Book
I feel like The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle* should have been a re-read for me, but this was the first time I’d read it. You’d think as much as I love unicorns and fantasy novels I’d have picked this one up earlier. Especially considering how much everyone loves it. Even the guy who wrote the best fantasy book I’ve ever read says, “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read. You need to read it. If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again” (Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind*).
On the surface, The Last Unicorn seems like a pretty simple book. A unicorn overhears two men say there aren’t any unicorns left in the world. Worried that she might be the last one, she goes out searching for other unicorns and meets with the sort of adventures you’d expect in a fantasy novel. There’s a wizard, a merry band of outlaws, a wise woman, a curse, a wicked king, and heroic prince, a talking cat, and a beautiful princess. But there’s so much more than that, too.
How People See You
There’s a lot going on in this relatively short book, so I’m just going to focus on one theme that I found particularly interesting. When the unicorn first sets out on her search, I expected that problems would arise when people spotted a unicorn walking down the road. But all they see is a white mare. The unicorn is puzzled.
“I suppose I could understand if men had simply forgotten unicorns, or if they had changed so that they hated unicorns and tried to kill them when they saw them. But not to see them at all, to look at them and see something else — what do they look like to one another, then? What do trees look like to them, or houses, or real horses, or their own children?”(p. 11).
One of my Facebook friends shared a post about the ten books that have most influenced his life, which I thought was a great idea. But it took me two weeks to figure out which books I wanted to write about and by the time I hit 500+ words I thought, why not just make it a blog post? So if you are reading this and care to share your most influential books consider yourself “tagged.” I’d love to see what books have had the biggest impact on your lives either in the comments or on your own blog (there’s an article topic you don’t have to come up with on your own!). The original list was 10 but I ended up with 8, so post however many you like.
A rather obvious first choice for a Christian blogger, but this book definitely deserves the top spot when talking about books that influenced my life. It’s still influencing everything I do and I fall more in love with this book and it’s Author every time I read it. It’s the greatest love story every told, the best handbook you’ll ever find for life, and an incredible source of hope and purpose. Since more than 50% of this blog is devoted to talking about this book I’ll stop now. You know I could (and have!) keep going on about it for several books worth of text.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I could have put several books by C.S. Lewis on this list, but this is the first of his non-fiction I read and it’s the one that’s been most influential (with Screwtape Letters a close second). I just love the way he writes about his faith. Not only is he firmly grounded in scripture, but he’s also a persuasive speaker to those who don’t already put their faith in the Bible. In the words of Anthony Burgess, “C.S. Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I started researching my personality after starting college and realizing I was even more different from “normal” people than I’d previously thought. This is one of the first books I read on the subject and it literally changed my life. Like many introverts, particularly INFJs, I always felt there was something off about the fact that I couldn’t seem to socialize the way so many other people did. This book pointed out how introvert brains are wired differently and that there are strengths in that personality. In other words, it shows that we’re not broken extroverts and introversion isn’t something to “fix.” Read more →
We fill-in-the-blank with a wide variety of things for a whole host of reasons, but today I want to talk about giving to charities. I saw a discussion on an INFJ Facebook group several months ago asking which charities other INFJs support. INFJs are considered one of the “save the world” personality types, as evidenced by the fact that two of the most famous INFJs were Mother Theresa and Gandhi. Many of the INFJ profiles you’ll read online talk about how INFJs often find work in non-profits and support charities. But even among a group of INFJs, there were plenty of people talking about the fact that they never donate to anything.
Now, there are perfectly understandable reasons for not giving money and I would never suggest you donate money that you don’t have. But if you have the means and desire to help, excuses like “I don’t trust charities” or “I don’t have the time” don’t hold up well in my mind. You can donate your time and money within your own community so you can see exactly what effects your efforts are having. There are also charities with good reputations who use their money wisely — you just have to look for them. And after that initial time-outlay of finding a charity you like, getting online to send money takes about a minute.
I’m making a difference now, on an individual level for this child and their family
I’m affecting the future, because children become the adults that shape their countries
I get to build a relationship with the people I’m helping, through letter-writing
I guess the main thing I want to do today is encourage you to think about the impact you’re having on this world for good. It can be in any number of ways — serving in our church groups, going out of your way to make someone smile, donating money or food stuffs, volunteering your time, sponsoring a child … the list just goes on and on. I want to leave you with a quote from C.S. Lewis that convicted me to start finding more ways to give, though I still think I fall short by these standards.
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
This study all began with perusing the “lambda” section in a Greek dictionary. I came across the word logikos (G3050), which means “pertaining to reason and therefore reasonable.” You’ve probably already guessed that it’s where we got our English word “logic.” This is the word used in Romans 12:1 for “reasonable service.”
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:1-2)
I tend to connect my faith with a feeling more than an intellectual idea. I know “intellectually” that God exists and that the Bible makes sense, but for me personally the feeling of Him being real and present and in a relationship with me seems more important. This has frustrated some of the more rational, logical people I’ve talked to. One atheist who had been raised Christian couldn’t understand why things that seem contradictory in scripture didn’t bother me even though I couldn’t explain all of them. Another person still in the church said that my “spirituality” is almost intimidating because I talk about my feelings for God so much, and that kind of faith seems alien to her. Other people attracted by reason and logic have walked away from their faith when confronted with scientific arguments for evolution or a “big bang” explanation of how the universe came into being.
One of the things I’ve run across in my studies of type psychology is that “feeling” types are more attracted to spirituality and religion than “thinking” types (this refers to a preference for dealing with people or data, not a measure of intelligence). In fact, I read of one study that indicated the more highly educated the person is, the more likely they are to be involved with a religion (sorry — I don’t have the citation yet. I’ll try to find it and update this post later). It makes sense that “feelers” are attracted to a place that encourages group interaction and harmony, but I worry that we may have scared off some of the “thinkers” with our talk of a touchy-feeling God who just wants to love people. It is true that God wants a relationship with everyone, but it’s not true that everyone needs to relate to Him the exact same way. He means to be accessible to all the people He created.
Order and Logic
There aren’t just one or two verses that simply state “God is ordered and logical.” Rather, the entire Bible and the whole of creation is a testament to the way His mind works. We can read Genesis 1 and see the orderly step-by-step way He created the world, then look at creation and see His master-craftsman hand at work in every aspect of the universe’s design. Scientists have been doing this for years, and many come to the conclusion that God is the only explanation for how the universe is so perfectly put together.
“The more I study science, the more I believe in God.” –Albert Einstein
“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.” –Max Planck
“When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it’s very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it.” –Tony Rothman
There are a couple verses in 1 Corinthians that speak to the orderly, logical attributes of God. Paul was discussing who should speak and how meetings should be conducted in the church, and makes these statements:
God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. … Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:33, 40)
God does not author confusion — He wants things to progress in a decent, orderly fashion. Even mildly logical, perfectionistic, or OCD people can identify with this attribute of God.
The Word of Intelligence
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14)
In these very familiar verses, the Greek word translated “Word” is logos (G3056). It is the root word for logikos, which we’re already talked about. It means “to speak,” but it is distinct from other words that specifically refer to sound or noise (lalia, G2981) or to speaking without necessarily making sense (laleo, G2980). Logos means to express intelligence.
Logos, when it refers to discourse, is regarded as the orderly linking and knitting together in connected arrangement of words of the inward thoughts and feelings of the mind. … In the first chapter of John, Jesus Christ in His preincarnate state is called ho Logos, the Word, meaning first immaterial intelligence and then the expression of that intelligence in speech that humans could understand. (Zodhiates)
One of the most well-known names of Jesus carries with it a testament to God’s reason, intellect, and logic. It is a key role of Jesus Christ to express intelligence — to communicate the thoughts of God in a way that people can understand.
Sometimes when people come across something in relation to God that “doesn’t make sense,” they assume that there’s something wrong with the Bible. But that’s just another way of saying that we think our minds work better than the Mind of the One who designed us. It’s really rather absurd to think there’s something wrong with God because we don’t understand Him perfectly. But it’s far more unsettling for some of us to admit that the problem might be on our side.
In John 8:43, Christ was debating with some of the Jews who were following Him. They were offended and confused by some of His words, and this is what He said to them:
Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. (John 8:43)
The word “speech” is translated from lalia — to make sounds — and “word” is from logos. Because they couldn’t grasp Christ’s intelligence speech, it was as if He was speaking nonsense (I’m indebted to Zodhiates’ Key-Word study Bible for analyzing this verse).
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)
Rather than assume there’s something lacking in God when we can’t understand Him and then reacting with hostility or disgust (by the end of John 8 the Jews were trying to stone Jesus), let’s follow James’ advice.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
The Issue of Feelings
C.S. Lewis is the perfect person to bring in on this discussion. He was a very logical, rational Christian (probably an INTJ, for those of you who like Myers-Briggs). I like this description of him from The New York Times Book Reviw: “C.S. Lewis is the ideal persuader of the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.”
Now, the thing about Lewis is that for him, getting your intellect out of the way certainly doesn’t mean abandoning reason and just “trust your feelings” or “have faith.” On the contrary, Lewis says that our faith absolutely must have a rational basis.
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. (Mere Christianity; III, 11)
That’s why it’s dangerous to try and base your faith on emotions alone. Feelings for God are all well and good, but feelings can change — we might “fall out of love” or fall into a season of doubt. But we can’t afford to give up on God when we don’t feel close to Him anymore. We have to keep choosing to seek Him because we have decided He is the only way to go.
Lewis went on to say in this chapter of Mere Christianity that we need to “train the habit of faith” daily by reminding ourselves of what we believe. He says, “Neither this belief no any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.” And if it’s not, we’ll be one of those people who just drift away from Christianity without even coming up with a reasonable argument for God not existing.
A Logical Sacrifice
The Bible tells us to “Pray without ceasing” and “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:17, 20). It’s a succinct instruction from God to do precisely what Lewis was talking about. God wants us to constantly be seeking, questioning, learning, and asking Him to help us understand His words.
This is another reason to stay close to the Source of the Living Water that we talked about in last week’s post. We need Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, involved in our lives. He is the Logos, and He is well able to shore-up our faith with reason and wisdom and good-sense.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, which the Father will send in My name, that one will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)
And then, having this foundation of knowing God exists, that He is more intelligent than we are , and that He sacrificed Himself for us, we can go back to Romans 12:1 and understand why it is logical for us to present ourselves in service to God. He created us, and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). He died to buy us back from sin, and we belong to Him not only as His creation, but as His to redeem (1 Cor. 6:20).
Since I just quoted Acts 17, let’s take a quick look at the apostle Paul. He was probably the most highly educated of the apostles, since he was trained as a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). It took direct divine intervention to show Paul that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:1-19), but once he was convinced of this fact he turned all the energy and emotion he’d been using to persecute the church into preaching the gospel. And he did so in a manner both firmly grounded in reason and full of zeal. He preached to groups of people from every walk of life, including presenting a reasonable argument to the Athenians and quoting their own poets and thinkers (Acts 17:16-34). He wrote most of the New Testament, epistles full of deep inspired reasoning that even Peter described as “things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul wrote the letter which tells us it is our “reasonable service” to devote every part of ourselves to following God, which is exactly what he did.
We are all made in God’s image, but no one person or type of person is “enough” to fully reflect all of who and what God is. I’ve seen this talked about in discussions of gender — man and women embody different attributes of God. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 12 describes different spiritual gifts, and different types of people that are all necessary parts of the church. If everyone was the same, the church would be lacking essential attributes.
But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. (1 Cor. 12:18-19)
The same, I think, can be said of personality types. Aspects of God are reflected in introverts and in extroverts, in people-oriented feeling types and in fact-oriented thinking types. And God Himself is accessible to everyone — He wants a relationship with the logical, questioning mind just as much as He wants a relationship with the more stereotypically “spiritual,” emotional people.