Friday, March 26, 2010

Imaginary Distresses

I go through phases of feeling really sorry for myself on night shift. In fact, you're probably sick of hearing about it! However, I recently picked Screwtape Letters off my bookshelf again. It's been a long time since I read it and it's the type of book that will speak differently to you depending on where you are in life.

Among some night shifters (the ones who can't return to a "normal" schedule on their days off, no matter how hard they try), there's a phenomenon called "shift work disorder." This applies to the people who suffer insomnia and excessive sleepiness from working nights.
The CDC did a study a few years ago and found that, obviously, most of the risks associated with night work are related to a simple lack of sleep and not being able to keep up steady, healthy behaviors- such as eating right and getting exercise. This, of course, leads to higher rates of cardiac disease and metabolic syndromes in night-shift workers. Digestive problems are also common, either because of poor eating habits or because the digestive system isn't used to working hard in the middle of the night.
I frequently complain of one or more of the above issues, including not being awake do to normal things with normal people at normal times of the day (or run errands during normal business hours). Poor me, right? Well, C.S. Lewis managed to kick me in the butt this week!
In Screwtape Letters, two demons are writing letters back and forth about the soul of an unfortunate man they always refer to as "the patient". The demons are trying to win the man's soul despite his conversion to Christianity and God's love for him (they refer to God as the Enemy). Quotes can be confusing out of context, but bear with me. Or even better, read the book! It's amazingly thought-provoking, but not in a way that makes it a chore to read. It's very much a story we can all learn from and not just some Christian living manual.
But I digress. Here I am, feeling sorry for myself, and I read about "the patient" taking a walk and renewing his faith in God. The senior demon writes to the younger one, saying: allowed (the patient) two real positive pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this? The characteristic of Pains or Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real and therefore give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality. Thus if you had been trying to damn your man by the Romantic method- by making him a kind of Childe Harold submerged in self-pity for imaginary distresses- you would try to protect him at all costs from any real pain; because, of course, five minutes' genuine toothache would reveal the romantic sorrows for the nonsense they were and unmask your whole stratagem.
I realized at that moment that I am certainly a victim of my own imaginary distresses. I had to stop and take stock of reality. Life's not perfect, but I certainly don't have it too bad! Sure, I hate my schedule, but I have a steady job! Yes, I took a paycut to move up here and I'm not used to income taxes, but I get regular paychecks every 2 weeks! I may not see my husband a lot right now, but he works so hard and I know I married a man with a wonderful heart. Yes, my back hurts and I'm struggling to live a healthy lifestyle without a healthy sleep pattern, but overall, I am still young and healthy! Most importantly, no, I cannot control my life or those around me, but God knit my inner being and He knows when I sit and when I stand. I was raised by amazing parents who taught me to turn to God in all circumstances.

I saw a homeless man on the corner today with crutches, a bad leg, and rags for clothes. Call me a sucker, but it always hurts my heart to see that depth of pain and vulnerability! (Homeless discussion aside, please. Yes, there are 1,000 reasons people are begging for change on the corner and not all of them are honorable or necessary. But it still hurts my heart.) I'm sitting here in my heated, (partially) furnished apartment with the knowledge that next Friday is payday and I have to admit that my life is pretty cushy.

The demons want to detach their "patient" from REAL pleasures and pains and I very much recognize that sin in my life. Time goes by faster if I walk around in a general haze, always blaming others for my problems, and feeling sorry for myself. God watch to detach us from ourselves, but in a different ways. The demon tells his apprentice,

(God) sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every human. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent will to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason.
Boy am I guilty of drifting away from my own nature in a bad way! I don't feel like myself when I'm tired, cranky, self-centered, and selfish, but it's become such a habit I suppose that's what others see when they look at me. I'm not myself, and I'm not His either! What a scary place to be, and I know I no longer want to be here. I'm sure it hurts God's heart to see one of his children trying to make time pass quickly when time is such a gift, a luxury, and not something to fritter away. I need to live in the present, not yesterday or tomorrow.
In fact, C.S. Lewis says, "the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which (God) has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them." God would rather have us continually concerned with eternity or with the Present. Not the past or earthly future. Living in the present, Lewis notes, means "obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, and giving thanks for present pleasure." Quite a task!

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