Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Erected by her loving brothers,
In memory of Martha Clay.

Here lies one who lived for others;
Now she has peace and so have they.

C. S. Lewis[1]

The highest good is always subject to the greatest corruption. "Deep, deeper than we believe, lie the roots of sin; it is in the good that they exist; it is in the good that they thrive and send up sap and produce the black fruit of hell."[2] So it is that we can, under the guise of "living for others," make life miserable for those we love. We can be bothersome at best. At worst, we can be intrusive, smothering, manipulative and controlling.

Speaking for myself, I've come to see that much of my "helpfulness" is driven by anxiety, and thus, in effect, is the help that I'm giving to myself. It is to help and heal me, to assuage my own worry and fear. That's why I can become compulsive, persistent and all enveloping when I try to lend a hand. I will "help" this person, whether they want or need my help so I will no longer be afraid. (And woe be to those I help if they don’t respond well to all that I have done, for their refusal to be “helped” exacerbates my fear!)

That being said, how then can I know my heart and its perturbations and move toward acts of mercy that are, in fact, helpful? There is but one way: Through prayer and what ancient Christians called "the examine of love":

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know all my anxieties.[3]

See if there is a way in me (i.e., a way of doing things) that causes pain to others,
And lead me in the way that produces eternal good.[4]

I must bring my heart to God to expose the anxiety that drives me and cast my care upon him, for he cares for those I love as he cares for me.[5] Then, in his warmth and tenderness and in the wholesome peace he gives, I may learn in time to give prudent help in a way that produces eternal good.[6]

The test of my peace and the measure of my progress is, of course, the way I choose to react when my helpfulness goes unrewarded.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Poems, "Epigrams and Epitaphs," Number 10
[2] Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p. 108
[3] Grammarians are unsure what this word “anxieties” actually means since it only occurs twice in the Old Testament and the root is unknown. It probably has the idea of hidden, or suppressed anxiety.
[4] Psalm 139:23,24 (My translation)
[5] 1 Peter 5:7
[6] I must point out, for my own comfort and for yours, that anxiety, while it may lead to sin, is not in itself sinful. It is rather an affliction, and like every affliction, it is our share in the sufferings of this life.

No comments:

Hunky-Dory? Life is not always "hunky-dory," as David Bowie and my father would say. Jesus agrees: "I did not come to br...