I’ve known about C.S. Lewis since I was young. Growing up, my mom read us The Chronicles of Narnia before bed.
One of the most unique things about C.S. Lewis is that pretty much all Christians — whether liberal or conservative; regardless of denomination — tend to like his writing. A British novelist and Oxford-educated academic, Lewis wrote over 30 books between 1930 and 1960. He was a member of the Anglican church (whose closest equivalent in the U.S. is the Episcopal church), and as an Ango-Catholic, his writings occupiy an incredibly rare space of appealing to Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theology. In a world where Christians seem determined to disagree with each other and split off into countless different sub-groups, pretty much everyone can agree that they, overall, appreciate the work of C.S. Lewis.
Lewis — whose friends referred to him as Jack — was raised in a Christian home, but spent his young adult life as an atheist. He eventually found his way back to Christianity, through the influence of writers like G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald (who Lewis actually gave a cameo in his book The Great Divorce, Scottish accent and all), and his close friend, and Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Lewis’ Approach to Storytelling
In his fiction work, Lewis (like Tolkien) saw fantasy and adventure stories as a way to teach about life, caring community, redemption, and — in a world flooded with centuries-worth of dangerous misrepresentations of God, crafted by power-hungry and control-seeking humans — to explain more clearly who God actually is.
tl;dr he’s basically the World War II-era version of Pixar. From UP to Inside Out, WALL-E to Toy Story, Pixar views stories as a way to communicate truth. Everyone — child or not — understands more about our world: about the beauty of friendship, the meaning of selfless love, or learning to find joy and hope after great loss, when it is explained to us through a story, then when we’re being lectured to or told about it point blank.
That was C.S. Lewis’ goal with The Chronicles of Narnia: to explain God, selfless love, courage, redemption, and hope … through story, because that is the best way that most of us learn, anyway.
An Honest and Raw Look at the Struggles of Faith
Lately — with the white supremacist terror of Charlottesville, and other discouraging events in our world — I’ve been feeling discouraged, to put it mildly. Whenever I wrestle with doubt, fear, pain, or lack of hope, I always turn to C.S. Lewis.
His fiction is wonderful, but I’ve learned and been encouraged the most by his works of non-fiction. The greats like Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, of course. But I find the most hope in his honest, messy, writings processing pain and loss: The Problem With Pain, and his beautiful, candid, decidedly un-tidy processing of the death of his wife in A Grief Observed.
Every time my life hurts — whether I’m directly experiencing grief or not — I go to A Grief Observed. It’s one of the most beautiful, raw, and powerful books I’ve ever read.
Below are 19 quotes — from a variety of Lewis’ fiction and nonfiction works — that speak into various facets of what it’s like when a life following Jesus just sometimes really freaking hurts. (As a note: I’ve shifted Lewis’ use of He or Him when referring to God to the more general God. This is an approach that has become more popular in the time since Lewis’ passing, and is based off the Bible’s use of both masculine and feminine language to talk about God, and the growing realization among writers and theologians of the various ways that Western cultures’ choice to view both God — and Jesus, an Arab man — as white men has introduced, over the centuries, a variety of incorrect and harmful misunderstandings into our view of God.)
None of these particular quotes are about joy, redemption, healing, or any of the many, much more positive aspects of a life of faith. These are the quotes for when life is hard; for the times when you don’t want to run to the happiness and hope, but when you just want to sit in the dissonance, the tough realities, and the messiness.
This is for when you don’t want people telling you to “just have more faith,” or smothering you with shiny platitudes. This is when your soul needs to wade in uncertainty and be seeped in messy, difficult realities. This is for when the messy, raw, hard truths are more comforting than the promise of ultimate (much later) joy and peace.
This is only a part of Lewis’ work, and certainly not the most joyful parts. But if you’re struggling, mourning, or wishing for peace in the midst of life’s storms, these quotes are for you.
19. Yes, you’re not perfect. None of us are. But how intentionally are you seeking to grow?
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
18. The process of growth — and of being refined — hurts.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what God is doing. God is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently God starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is God up to?
The explanation is that God is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but God is building a palace. And God intends to come and live in it.”
17. The reality of doing things God’s way instead of our way:
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
16. Lewis’ picture of God as the lion Aslan.
“Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan. ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’
I – I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian. ‘I am only a kid.’
Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”
15. Lions are powerful, and also a bit terrifying.
“Aslan is a lion: the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”
14. Aslan doesn’t do things as we expect. And he’s definitely not operating under our timetable.
“He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
13. Being a Christian sucks. Sure, there’s the healing and wholeness. The hope and joy. But there’s also a fair amount of suck.
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
12. Lewis’ version of John 11:35, the shortest — and one of my favorite — verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
[Digory, a young boy, asking Aslan to cure his mother’s sickness] “But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.”
11. The weird, counter-intuitive, and thoroughly annoying paradox of giving up our right to control our lives … and eventually finding more purpose, joy, and hope than we expected.
“The more we let God take us over,
the more truly ourselves we become –
because God made us.
God invented us…
It is when I turn to Christ,
when I give up myself to Christ’s personality,
that I first begin
to have a real personality of my own.”
10. Yeah, I get that it’s good. But I don’t want to.
“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
9. We never have it figured out. As soon as we think we get it, God swoops in and tosses all our expectations, all of our certainty, and every preconcieved notions up in the air. It’s up to us to pick up the pieces, and, though the process, to slowly learn more of who God actually is.
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. God shatters it.”
8. Nothing about being a Christian makes any sense. Nothing. We just kind of have to trust. And keep moving forward, knowing things will begin to become more clear … eventually.
“The Christian way is different:
harder, and easier.
Christ says, “Give me all.
I don’t want so much of your time,
and so much of your money,
and so much of your work:
I want you.
I have not come to torment your natural self,
but to kill it. …
I don’t want to drill the tooth,
or crown it, or stop it,
but to have it out.
Hand over the whole natural self,
all the desires which you think innocent
as well as the ones you think wicked—
the whole outfit.
I will give you a new self instead.
In fact, I will give you myself:
my own will shall become yours.”
7. Did he mention that is sometimes just really freaking hurts?
“What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know God is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”
6. I keep trying to plan my life around my goal, what I want, and carefully crafting a strategy to make me as happy and fulfilled as possible. And — again and again — it always fails miserably. I’m slowly starting to realize that I might not have as much wisdom and insight as I think I do.
“God made us. God invented us, as a man invents an engine.
A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else.
Now God designed the human machine to run on God.
God is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn,
or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.”
5. No, really. I’m not an expert at this. As hard as I try, I will never come up with a life or career plan that will every make me truly happy in the end.
“Now we cannot…discover our failure to keep God’s law
except by trying our very hardest (and then failing).
Unless we really try, whatever we say, there will always be,
at the back of our minds, the idea that if we try harder next time,
we shall succeed in being completely good.
Thus, in one sense, the road back to God
is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder.
But in another sense, it is not trying
that is ever going to bring us home.
All this trying leads up to the vital moment
at which you turn to God and say,
“You must do this. I can’t.”
4. Whether a dream job, a beloved person, a life goal, any sort of amazing personal possession…
“Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”
3. Lewis wrote this after his wife, Joy, died. I love knowing that even great, insightful “spiritual” people feel like this.
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about God. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
2. Having people in our lives who we deeply, truly love is crucial. But the way we love them is also important.
“Need-love says of a person, “I cannot live without them”
Gift-love longs to give them happiness, comfort, protection…
appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent,
rejoices that such a wonder should exist, even if not for us,
will not be wholly dejected by losing them,
would rather have it so than never to have seen them at all.”
1. That’s. Great. And. All. But. I’m. Not. Sure. I. Really. Want. Too.
“Give up yourself,
and you will find your real self.
Lose your life
and you will save it.
Submit to death,
death of your ambitions
and favorite wishes
and death of your whole body
in the end submit
with every fiber of your being,
and you will find eternal life.
Keep back nothing.
Nothing that you have not given away
will be really yours.
Nothing in you
that has not died
will ever be raised from the dead.”