Losing OUR Way
Kids get lost in the department store. Sailors get lost at sea. We use GPS to keep us from getting lost while driving. When we cannot find something we look in the lost and found. When something goes terribly wrong, we are encouraged by remembering “all is not lost.” When something is worrying us, we try not to lose sleep over it. In matters of the heart, we know it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. We celebrate when we are reunited with long lost friends. We go on diets to lose weight. We lose track of time. You can lose your mind, lose sight of what is important, Lose touch with reality. You can lose a friend, Lose your hair, Lose your cool, Lose your temper, Lose your nerve, Lose control.
Some say, you can lose your faith, lose your religion. And some folks in the church label people “lost” if they are judged to be lacking in relationship with God.
In almost every case, being lost is not a good thing. Think about the emotions that well up in you when you consider being lost: fear, anxiety, frustration. We do not like being lost. Being lost is a sign that you did something wrong, that you did not follow directions, that you went astray – perhaps that you were led astray or tempted to go the wrong way. In the church, we have often associated lost-ness with giving in to temptation.
Temptation: this is a theme we typically consider during Lent. In fact it is a theme that often begins our 40 day journey to Easter. 40 days is a significant number inour faith. It is a number that symbolizes a spiritual journey of change. And so it should be no surprise that on this first Sunday of lent we read the story of Jesus 40 day temptation.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This temptation is personified in The Screwtape Letters, one of CS Lewis’s most popular books.
It is a book of letters about how to effectively tempt humans written from the perspective of a master tempter, named Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, who is a brand new tempter. Screwtape advises his nephews on how to tempt a particular human that they he only refers to as “the patient” (as if they were doctors). Reading the book forces you to think deeply …and that is part of the genius of it. It is written in the reverse. That is it is not simple advice for you and I as Christians. No that book would be letter written from an archangel to a guardian angel on how to get humans to do right, to resist temptation and stay focused on what is good and of God. Instead, this book does the opposite and you really have to think about what it means for you and I – how temptation works upon us.
Here is an example:
Keep him spiritual and not practical, Screwtape advises, as it is the practical that often brings people to God. Encourage him to pray for tangible, desired ends and so direct his prayers to objects and not to God. Allow the patient to be oversensitive until everything, even his mother, grates on his nerves. Keep his prayers formless, as they are easier to manipulate. Turn his gaze away from God toward himself. Create a subtle conflict when he prays for courage; let him find himself turning boastful.
What is interesting about The Screwtape letters is not that Screwtape and Wormwood are trying to create violent or evil people; rather, as Maryetta Anschutz has said,
they are trying to create a generation of people who are defined by selfishness and insincerity, pettiness and pride, fear and a need to control the things of this world.
In other words, they are trying to create people who are utterly lost in them selves unable to really to focus on God or others.
Part of what captures me when I read this book is that practically everything which Screwtape is teaching his student tempter Wormwood is about getting his patient to get lost in his own self. Essentially, get the human to focus on himself rather than anyone else most especially God. If the human can get lost in himself, that is, his own thoughts, his own wants and desires, his own ego, and so on, then the human will not be connected to either God or others and so will be a servant of Screwtape semester
Compare the Temptation of Jesus in Matthew to the Temptations being taught by Screwtape in the book. Jesus temptations are each fundamentally about power. The essential question in this story is this: Will Jesus succumb to the temptation of using his power for his own ends or will he use it for God?
Jesus temptation are just like those in The Screwtape Letters – they are about getting lost in himself, in his power and what he could do with that power.
But Jesus shows us how to respond to being lost in ourselves, lost in our thoughts, our emotions our wants and desires, lost in our abilities and power. It is quite simple really. We must lose our SELF. We must lose OUR way. Now be careful that you hear what I am saying here. We must not lose our WAY. We must lose OUR way and discover GOD’s way.
Jesus resists his own way by focusing on God’s vision – he is led into the wilderness to get lost. He is tempted to become lost in himself, and his means of combating the temptation is to ironically lose HIS OWN way and commit to GOD’s way.
Like Jesus, we need to get lost. But we need not get lost in ourselves. Rather, we must become lost to ourselves that we might find God’s way.
What is your way? And what is God’s way? How might the spirit be leading you into the wilderness to lose your way right now? And what is the way of God that is right in front of you for you to discover?
Those are the questions we ask ourselves during Lent.