An excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ essay ‘A Slip of the Tongue’ from ‘The Weight of Glory’.
This is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal.
It is different from the temptations that met us at the beginning of the Christian life. Then we fought against admitting the claims of the eternal at all. And when we had fought, and been beaten, and surrendered, we supposed that all would be fairly plain sailing.
This temptation comes later. It is addressed to those who have already admitted the claim in principle and are even making some sort of effort to meet it. Our temptation is too look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope– we very ardently hope –that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.
The lie consists in the suggestion that our best protection is a prudent regard for the safety of our pocket, our habitual indulgences, and our ambitions. But that is quite false. Our real protection is to be sought elsewhere: in common Christian usage, in moral theology, in steady rational thinking, in the advice of good friends and good books.. Swimming lessons are better than a lifeline to the shore. For of course that lifeline is really a death line. There is no parallel to paying taxes and living on the remainder. For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.”
He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to it; there will be nothing “of our own” left over to live on, no “ordinary” life. I do not mean that each of us will necessarily be called to be a martyr or even an ascetic. That’s as may be. For some the Christian life will include much leisure, many occupations we naturally like. But these will be received from God’s hands. In a perfect Christian they would be as much part of his “religion,” his “service,” as his hardest duties, and his feasts would be as Christian as his fasts.
What cannot be admitted–what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy–is the idea of something that is “our own,” some area in which we are to be “out of school,” on which God has no claim… When we try to keep within us an area of our own, we try to keep an area of death… Thomas More said, “If ye make indentures with God how much ye will serve Him, ye shall find ye have signed both of them yourself.” Law.. said “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.” Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?
It is a remarkable fact that on this subject Heaven and Hell speak with one voice. The tempter tells me, “Take care. Think how much this good resolve, the acceptance of this Grace, is going to cost.” But Our Lord equally tells us to count the cost…What matters, what Heaven desires and Hell fears, is precisely that further step, out of our depth, out of our own control. And yet, I am not in despair… I do not think any efforts of my own will can end once and for all this craving for limited liabilities, this fatal reservation. Only God can. I have good faith and hope He will. Of course, I don’t mean that I can therefore, as they say, “sit back.” What God does for us. He does in us. The process of doing it will appear to me to be the daily and hourly repeated exercises of my own will in renouncing this attitude, especially each morning, for it grows all over me like a new shell each night. Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularised presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own.