Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Humour and Proportion"

"I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, "By jove! I'm being humble", and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed."

-CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

It's funny how our fallen minds work, isn't it? At least, I know my mind works in funny ways. As though it's determined to leach virtue out of everything I do, to take generosity and turn it into a roundabout way of gratifying and congratulating myself.

Yesterday I found myself in a grocery store, insistently reassuring a young woman that she should "buy whatever you need, don't worry about it!" And then she came to the register with her cart, laden with food for her and her two younger siblings, and a part of me thought, Hmm...that's a little full, isn't it? And then I was watching the cashier scan the items, and that same part of me thought, they really need meat? Couldn't they get by on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? After all, she's buying this with your money, and you can't keep on doing this sort of thing forever. Think of Anna, after all, and your child on the way! Shouldn't you be saving more money for...

And then, thank God, another part of me spoke up. And it said, Oh yeah, shame on her! Shame on her for taking you at your word! Shame on her for assuming that you really meant to be generous, and not just buy a few token groceries to make yourself feel better.  Yeah, you're stretched for money  alright...after all, you spent more money than this on hot wings a few weeks ago. God forbid that on top of that immense hardship, you buy someone groceries -- you might not be able to buy as many hot wings next time!

And that was that...for a while. And then, of course, afterwards, that thought: That was a good thing you just did. Good job! And the way you got rid of those ungracious thoughts? Great work, dude! That was super generous of you. Most people probably wouldn't have been that generous. Isn't it nice, thinking of how generous you are?

And then, on quashing those thoughts: Man, you are so humble. Not many people would have gotten rid of that so quickly. You're the man! Isn't it cool how humble you are? Isn't it...

Honestly, I had to laugh at myself. And I think "humour and proportion", as Lewis points out, really are some of our most potent weapons against the enemy - and ourselves. It's a constant battle not to take myself too seriously, to laugh at my sheer ridiculousness, to mock the part of me who sticks me up on a pedestal.

So I laugh at my sin, and in doing so try to get rid of it. I don't laugh at it because sin is trivial -- it certainly isn't! But I laugh at it because it is concerned with trivialities. It consists of taking a small act of charity and making a mountain of it - not for the benefit of others, but for my own. It consists of taking a small attempt at humility and making that the basis for a statue built in my honor.

Sin makes us think so small...when the things that God wants us to aspire to are so large. And when confronted with that smallness, with a desire to substitute it for the largeness up ahead, I think the only appropriate response is laughter.