A Lesson About Time

If you have never read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, repent. I’m only half joking. I recently reread the book on my kindle as I biked at the gym and found it to be more insightful and convicting than the first time around.

The book consists of 31 “letters” written by Screwtape, who occupies a position of power in Satan’s “lowerarchy,” to his nephew Wormwood, a young tempter assigned to an English man simply known as “the Patient.” In each letter (which comprises only a 2-3 pages making it easy to read and perfect for those moments when you only have a few minutes) Screwtape offers advice on how Wormwood might undermine this man’s faith.

In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul, referring to Satan, writes, “…in order that he might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” From this we conclude that Satan has schemes or strategies or plans that he uses against us in order to separate us from Christ. Although to my knowledge Lewis never refers to this verse in reference to this book, it is as if he is helping us see how Satan might attack us.

There is one particular chapter that has stuck with me since I read it a few weeks ago. In it Screwtape suggests that Wormwood cultivate the selfish idea that “My time is my own.”

“Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.”

I don’t know if you can identify with me, but I don’t like it when someone intrudes on what I think of as “my time.” Everyone has their own work or family duties that take the vast majority of their time during the day. As a pastor with 4 kids, I’m no exception. That makes those moments, planned or unplanned, when I have a few minutes to do what I want something I really value. When those moments get interrupted or “stolen”, it can really bother me.

Lewis suggests that there is nothing quite as silly as a human being thinking that they own time.

“The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon has chattels.”

In addition, as Christians we should totally devoted to God. Lewis imagines that if God appeared to a Christian and demanded that he totally serve him for one full day, no Christian would refuse. And if within that day, God graciously gave us an hour to spend in any way we wanted, we’d be thrilled. But of course that is how we should view every day.

“Our time” is a dangerous idea. Just like the phrase “our body” leads us to all kinds of sins of impurity so the phrase “our time” leads us to the sins of impatience, selfishness, anger, etc…

Lewis is helping me to learn to view time as something that belongs to God not me. I want to use the time that God has given me in a day in ways that serve God’s purposes and not my own. Maybe the phone call I didn’t expect, the interruption, the kid who needs help right when I was getting ready to do something, is part of what it means for me to follow Christ today. Maybe it isn’t an inconvenience but really part of doing God’s will. Maybe it isn’t an accident but an assignment. After I all, I don’t own my time (or my money, body or anything else). I’m just a steward of the time that God’s freely given to me.

The Screwtape Letters, along with other C. S. Lewis books can be purchased online or at The Crossing’s bookstore.

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