C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
You play the hand you’re dealt. I think the game’s worthwhile
–C. S. Lewis (allegedly)
While this quote is widely attributed to Lewis on-line, I’ve yet to come across an actual reference that points to a place where I can verify that he really said it.* Still, the advice is worthwhile, though we see it better modeled in what Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote.
It is a simple fact that we all are gifted with varying levels of ability and circumstance. There is no society–nor will there ever be in this fallen world–where everyone is born into complete and total equality in those terms (their ultimate value as a being is another matter–we are all already equal there). Compared to some people (like Lewis himself intellectually or Bill Gates financially), I am not “gifted” in any meaningful sense of the term. Compared to others, I am incredibly “gifted.” That isn’t intended to be humble or arrogant. It is just a statement of fact. The people above and below me in this pattern of ability in turn likely relate to others the way I relate to them.
Therefore, learning to take what we have been given by God in particular and life in general and make the most of it is often what separates people who are successes from those who are failures. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I am not called to redefine generations of belief and literary genres as Lewis and Tolkien have. I am called to do the most I can with what I have been given, to take it and use it to its uttermost in ways that I myself would not have dreamed possible before I undertook it.
We see this best in Frodo Baggins, of course. Frodo was “just” a hobbit. He was not tall or strong; no master of wizardry, warfare, or woodcraft. He came from a people who had traditionally distinguished themselves for nothing in particular, beyond, perhaps, puttering away the days with pointless chatter about family trees and social relations. Taking only what he had been given, Frodo brought the One Ring to Mordor, something even the Wise, Great, and Strong could not have done. He did it himself, as himself.
Another problem comes when we judge ourselves by what someone else did with an entirely different hand of cards. If I judge my success as an author by that of Lewis or Tolkien, then I am almost 100% guaranteed to come up a failure. Thankfully, as Christ taught in the parable of the talent (Matt. 25: 14-30), if we are to live by the hand we are dealt, we will be judged by that hand as well. In that sense, a poor man or woman who lives an honest life in poverty will be judged greater than a dishonest national leader.
I, for one, find that reassuring!
*If so, it was out of character for him. Lewis described himself as a terrible gambler in Surprised By Joy, and therefore he probably wouldn’t naturally revert to a card-paying metaphor. The phrase is actually provably older than Lewis, though, and therefore perhaps he would have simply been repeating it.
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.