Sometimes life is what happens to us when we are planning to do something else. For C.S. Lewis it was the World War of 1917-1918 that deflected him from his immediate plans for education at Oxford. Shortly before his nineteenth birthday he was drafted and found himself billeted at Keble College.
By fluke of alphabetical order he found himself sharing a room with Paddy Moore. The two young men agreed that if either of them died in battle, the one that lived would take care of the other man’s family. In November of that year Lewis was sent to the Western Front with the 3rd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry where he was wounded and returned to England for recuperation. Paddy Moore was not so lucky but was missing in action and believed dead.
At the end of the war Lewis returned to Oxford to continue his education. Lewis’s brother Warren writes that C. S. Lewis felt a “duty of keeping some war-time promise made to Paddy Moore” and as a result took on what was going to be a life-long association with Paddy’s querulous and demanding mother. Warren wrote of Paddy Moore’s mother that she “interfered constantly with his work, and imposed upon him (C.S. Lewis) a heavy burden of minor domestic tasks. In twenty years I never saw a book in her hands; her conversation was chiefly about herself, and was otherwise a matter of ill-informed dogmatism: her mind was of a type that he found barely tolerable elsewhere.” Lewis faithfully maintained his relationship with Paddy Moore’s mother until her death some thirty years later.
What is amazing about the story is everything else that C. S. Lewis accomplished while under the stress of living in a household dominated by this old tyrant. He was a voracious reader and creative thinker who left an indelible impression on his peers and on generations to come. C.S. Lewis is one of the most prolific Christian authors of the twentieth century, and as university professor also wrote books in his own field.
He did all this while living with Paddy Moore’s mother. In one of his books during World War II, Lewis reflects the attitude that adverse circumstances shouldn’t hamper you from meeting the more important challenges of your life. There will always be a crisis of some sort. Stress never really goes away, it just changes its coat. Life is what you make of it where you are, in the midst of everything that is going on.
In the midst of everything C.S. Lewis grew a habit of steady prayer and scripture reading and developed a special fondness for the Book of Psalms. As his books became popular he prospered and extended his charities to a wide variety of societies and needy individuals. He was a man whose gaze was so firmly on the heavenly city that the hindrances on the immediate horizon faded in importance. Rather than being quelled by his domestic circumstances, C.S. Lewis thrived and blessed us all.
One thing I am firmly convinced of is that a crisis is just a crisis. We’ve seen crises before. We will see them again. Stress goes away for a while, then changes its coat and comes back again in another guise. If we wait for circumstances to change before we do those things that we want to accomplish we will wait forever. There will always be something that threatens to deflect us from the things we are called to do. Like C.S. Lewis, instead of being constrained by the crises and stress of everyday life, we face the challenge of stepping forward, right where we are, to meet God’s deeper calling on our lives.