Tuesday, January 31, 2012

C.S. Lewis Quote: Are we optimistic inmates, or disgruntled (& delusional) hotel guests?

"If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad.  
"Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison.
"Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable.  
"So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.” - C.S. Lewis
Wow.  Let that sink in a bit.

Are we being "optimistic inmates", or "disgruntled hotel guests"?

What a lifeline of perspective this could be to those in this world who are being swept out to sea by the undercurrents of over-romanticism and perfectionism, or who's own pride or vanity is causing them to swim out on their own because someone told them they could escape Alcatraz and "live the good life" by "making a run for it".

It reminds me of a talk by Elder Kent D. Watson from the October 2009 General Conference:
 When Alma the Younger taught in the land of Gideon, he said:
“I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world. …
“I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things.”
In a later message, Alma instructed his son Shiblon, and by extension instructs all of us, to “see that ye are not lifted up unto pride.” Rather, we should “be diligent and temperate in all things.” Being temperate means to carefully examine our expectations and desires, to be diligent and patient in seeking righteous goals.
Sounds like those who expect to spend their mortal probation staying in the Presidential Suite at The Plaza Hotel need to plan for other accommodations, (and those who think they are already there need to take a good hard look around, and stop telling themselves that the striped suits they are wearing are really luxurious bathrobes or that the armed guard outside their cell is really the Butler...)    ;-)

I remember reading a BYU devotional given by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley in 1973 that touches on this subject:
I know that you have come to hear something that will help you, and to that end I seek the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit. I think I know something of the frustrations of college life. It is a long time since I was there, but I have never forgotten the anxieties of those days. And I think I know something of the frustrations of life in general. I have had my head bumped and my shins barked. On some of these occasions when I have needed a laugh I have turned to a letter which I think is something of a classic, which was first published in the Manchester, England, Guardian and later reprinted in the Deseret News.
A hurricane had hit the West Indies, and a bricklayer was sent to repair the damage. He wrote to the home office as follows, and I hope you can get this delightful picture:
Respected Sirs:
When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the building, there was a lot of bricks left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom, and then went up and filled the barrel with the extra bricks. Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line. Unfortunately the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on, and halfway up I met the barrel coming down and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my finger jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground it bursted its bottom, allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go of the line. The barrel then came down, giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in the hospital. I respectfully request sick leave.
Life is like that--ups and downs, a bump on the head, and a crack on the shins. It was ever thus. Hamlet went about crying, "To be or not to be," but that didn't solve any of his problems. There is something of a tendency among us to think that everything must be lovely and rosy and beautiful without realizing that even adversity has some sweet uses. One of my favorite newspaper columnists is Jenkin Lloyd Jones. In a recent article published in the News, he commented:
There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.
Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he's been robbed. The fact is that most putts don't drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey--delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

I'd like to leave that thought with you this morning.
But here is the best part - we don't need to stay at The Plaza, or be perpetually traveling on the Orient Express to have everything we need to make it back to our Heavenly Home.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell helps us to see our own personal Alcatraz's in a new light:
In just a few words, a major insight came to the conscientious and the converted through Alma: "For I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me" (Alma 29:3). However, just prior, Alma urgently desired to be the "trump of God" so that he might "shake the earth" (Alma 29:1). But not because of ego; in fact, Alma wanted to declare repentance and the plan of redemption to all mankind so that there might be no more human sorrow (see Alma 29:2). Yet Alma's contentment rested on the reality that God finally allots to us according to our wills (see Alma 29:4). What could be more fair?
Thus becoming content with his calling, Alma then meekly hoped to be an instrument to help save some soul (see Alma 29:9). A significant spiritual journey is thus reflected in but nine soliloquy‐like verses.
The same contentment awaits us if our own desires can be worked through and aligned.
I think that that is the key right there - the word "aligned".  Not "catered to", not "receiving approval from", or "followed to find contentment", but "worked through", (i.e. "against"), "and aligned".

Elder Maxwell goes on to explain that even though some mortals are allotted "reduced chances because of poverty", have physical, mental or geographic constraints, or even tragic man-made constraints such as "slavery" and "concentration camps" ...
[W]e are to do what we can within our allotted "acreage," while still using whatever stretch there may be in any tethers. Within what is allotted to us, we can have spiritual contentment. Paul described it as "godliness with contentment," signifying the adequate presence of attributes such as love, hope, meekness, patience, and submissiveness (1 Tim. 6:6).
Yet, no matter what the size of our "plot", we still have agency and accountability:
"Our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability." [Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts,” Ensign, November 1996, p. 21]  
He goes on to describe the kind of contentment we are seeking for:
Being content means acceptance without self-pity. Meekly borne, however, deprivations such as these can end up being like excavations that make room for greatly enlarged souls.

Some undergo searing developments that cut suddenly into mortality’s status quo. Some have trials to pass through, while still others have allotments they are to live with. Paul lived with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).

Suffice it to say, such mortal allotments will be changed in the world to come. The exception is unrepented sin that shapes our status in the next world.

Thus, developing greater contentment within certain of our existing constraints and opportunities is one of our challenges. Otherwise we may feel underused, underwhelmed, and underappreciated—while, ironically, within our givens are unused opportunities for service all about us. Neither should we pine away, therefore, for certain things outside God’s givens, such as for the powerful voice of an angel, because there is so much to do within what has been allotted to us (see Alma 29:3–4). Furthermore, varied as our allotted circumstances may be, we can still keep the commandments of God!
...Thus “the holy present” contains the allotted acres for our discipleship. We need not be situated in prime time with prime visibility in order to work out our own salvation!

In contrast, however, as to improving our behavior, there are no borders that we cannot cross and no shortage of visas for those willing to venture!

Incremental improvement is, therefore, the order of the day, and it clearly requires the accompaniment of the Lord’s long-suffering as we struggle to learn the necessary lessons.
It's not about the venue, it's about what we do with it...
Performance is what matters, not the size of the stage. The Sea of Galilee, only 13 miles by 7, was nevertheless large enough to provide the disciples with a vital experience involving faith and walking on the water (see Matt. 14:22–33). The wind was boisterous and frightening! Even so, compare the size of those Galilean swells and the length of that storm with what Nephi and party had to endure on the vast ocean! (see 1 Ne. 18:13–21). Yet both episodes provided the needed learning experiences.
... Thus, less spectacular episodes, just as good individuals with lower profiles, are “no less serviceable” in order to get the job done (Alma 48:19).

... Life’s necessary defining moments come within our allotments, and we make “on the record” choices within these allotments. Our responses are what matter. Sufficient unto each life are the tests thereof! (see Matt. 6:34).
... The justice and mercy of God will have been so demonstrably perfect that at the Final Judgment there will be no complaints, including from those who once questioned what God had allotted in the mortal framework (see 2 Ne. 9:14–15; Alma 5:15–19; Alma 12:3–14; Alma 42:23–26, 30).

Hence, we can and “ought to be content with the things allotted to us,” being circumstantially content but without being self-satisfied and behaviorally content with ourselves (see 3 Ne. 12:48; 3 Ne. 27:27; Matt. 5:48).
Elder Maxwell goes on to instruct us on how to use make the best use of that which is divinely "allotted" unto us, and how to keep from getting stuck in the unnecessary "yearning" and "pressing" for expanded opportunities or roles.  I strongly recommend reading and doing a lot of pondering on this one.

And so, I give thanks to the dear Lord for the Alcatraz that he has sent us to.  It may not have everything I want, but it has everything the Lord knows I need to either be rehabilitated, or hand myself - the choice is up to me.

(As a side note - I actually have this C.S. Lewis quote posted on my wall at work with the word "world" scratched out and replaced with "job".  It's spooky how relevant it is.  Probably can be tweaked to use the words "house", "chore", "school", "calling", "trial", etc. and have the same effect.)

1 comment:

Noah said...

"When you have the light of the Gospel playing on your own personality and your own possibilities then one other thing becomes quite clear. The seeming restrictions of the Gospel are actually emancipations. By that I mean that just as there might be a circumstance in which you would have to walk a narrow, dangerous mountain ledge in order to get to the top of a breathtaking mountain, so it is with discipleship. The restrictions, or seeming restrictions, are the way you get to the emancipation that comes by having been obedient. So, in a sense, God's standards are your key to happiness." - Neal A. Maxwell, "Become Like God and Jesus Christ", Ricks Devotional, Oct. 1990