The Times That Try Men’s Souls

A couple days ago I posted about how the rewards of much of the work we do only come at the end.  Today I got the following from Michael, one of my faithful readers (there really are some!), and a truly swell guy:

I’m a regular on your blog.  Your last post about distribution of labor vs. return rings very true.  That is exactly how our home sale in Phoenix was.  Tons of work and worry up front with little reward, but finally it was all worth it in the end.  It seems like some problems/activities in life have a fulcrum point.  Once you have passed a certain point, momentum benefits rather than restrains.  Question is always where that point resides.  This concept has merit in many other aspects of life… enduring to the end.

Michael is correct, and I have no quibble with his note, but I do hear something in there that I want to caution against, since I started it and would hate to not have been clear.

C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent, though oft overlooked, story called The Great Divorce, in which a busload of the damned take a holiday to the doorstep of Heaven.  And, not surprisingly, very few of them want to stay there.  If they were, in fact, the kinds of people that would enjoy being in Heaven, then they would have been there all along, wouldn’t they?  Among the many parts of that book that struck me as obviously true is this gem:

“…[M]ortals misunderstand.  They say of some tempoal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate even the pleasure of the sin.  Both processes begin even before death.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.  And that is why, at the end of all things…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven’ and the Lost, ‘We wwere always in Hell.’  And both will speak truly.”

There’s the famous story about the man sitting along the road not far from a town.  A traveler approaches him and asks “what sort of people live in the next town there?”  The man replies with a question: “what are the people like where you come from?” and the traveler proceeds to tell him of the most horrible, nasty, vicious people he used to live with.  The man sadly informs the traveler, “you’ll find the same sort of people in the next town.”  A few minutes later, another traveler comes by and asks the man the same question.  “What are the people like where you come from?” asks the man in reply.  “Oh,” says the traveler, “they are the kindest and best of people, always cheerful and witty, and I hated to leave them.”  The man smiles and says “You will find the very same people in the next town, son, and you’re very welcome.”  The moral of the tale is that you should always remember that the common thread among all your failed relationships is you.I mention these things almost by way of contradicting my earlier post on the rewards coming only at the end.  What I wrote was true up to a point; there are certainly rewards that are not available at the beginning and the middle that only become available at the end.  But those that do not seek the rewards of the beginning and the middle will not find them at the end, either.  No one that says “I’ll be happy when…” or “If only thus and so, and that will put my mind at rest…” will actually be able to BE happy when, and his mind will never rest.  If you are not looking at the blessings in front of you right now, you will find that you cannot see any later on.Humans are not very good at this.  I am certainly not going to give anyone lessons on how to do it; they would see immediately how poor at it I am.  But I do occasionally see that rolling around on the floor with my 2-year-old had better be good whether or not I have closed an important deal today, or I am going to be one wretched man most of my life.  My tomatoes are growing, and I need to delight at them now, even before there is a hint of red on any of the fruit, or I will find that the fruit itself is not what I anticipated.

Truly there are times that try men’s souls.  Perhaps in these times we can remember to good effect that much of the reward we seek is going to be deferred ‘til the crisis is past, and that, as Lewis says, Heaven will work backward and make even this Hell a glory.  We ought therefore to take the more cheer from the now, knowing that all things work together for good for them that believe.We all know those that are hardly ever happy with what they get, and those that seem happy no matter what.  We ought to be more careful to be some of the latter sort; those that are happy right now are always happy, those that are not happy now will find that now is the only time there is to be happy in.

Leave a Reply