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C.S. Lewis: Focus On What is in Your Power
We must divert our efforts from our general condition (which we can't alter by direct action of the will) to what is in our power — our words and acts.
In this letter, C.S. Lewis advises Edward Lofstrom to focus on acting with charity and justice instead of worrying about his sense of self-imprisonment and feeling of guilt.
8 MARCH 1959
TO EDWARD LOFSTROM
I very much doubt if any book, least of all a book by me, would much help anyone in the condition you describe. For a book can offer only thoughts and thoughts are not what such a person, perhaps, needs most.
One can argue against egoism, but then egoism is not his trouble. If he were a real egoist he would be either blissfully unconscious of the fact or else fully convinced that egoism was the rational attitude.
You, on the other hand, suffer from a more than ordinary horror of egoism which you share with us all.
And therefore, as you will see, the thing you need is not to think more or better about it but to think less: to act unselfishly — that is, charitably and justly and leave the state of your feelings for God to deal with in His own way and His own time. And this of course you know better than I do.
But how to do it?
For the very effort to forget something is itself a remembering of that something! I think, if I were in your shoes I should try to regard this sense of self-imprisonment not at all as a sin but as a mere tribulation, like rheumatism, to be endured in the same way. It has no doubt its medical side: diet, exercise, and recreations might all be considered.
And, though this is a hard saying, your early upbringing may have something to do with it. Great piety in the parents can produce in the child a mistaken sense of guilt: may lead him to regard as sin what is really not sin at all but merely the fact that he is a boy and not a mature Christian.
At any rate, remember:
'I cannot turn one hair black or white: but I can brush my hair daily and go to the barber at regular interval’
In other words we must divert our efforts from our general condition or frame of mind (which we can't alter by direct action of the will) to what is in our power — our words and acts. Try to remember that the 'bottomless sea' can't hurt us as, long as we keep on swimming.
You will be in my prayers.1
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Lewis, C. S.. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2008.