The Screwtape Letters

You Can’t Put Anxiety in a Bottle

You can’t put anxiety in a bottle and you can’t package stress in a box.

They exist in your mind and it’s here where Christianity becomes more than just a Sunday morning service. Instead, your relationship with Christ becomes a practical tool to help keep your head screwed on right.

A lot of what contributes to your stress level is the unintentional way in which your brain attempts to process everything all at once rather than simply taking it one step at a time.

Let me show you what I mean…

The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters” is a short book by CS Lewis, who also wrote the “Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s a fictional collection of letters written by a demon whose nephew has been tasked with making life miserable for a recent convert to Christianity. It’s a great read because of the way it lets you see the tactics of the devil from the standpoint of Satan himself.

At one point, he says this. The numbers you see at the end of certain sentences is what we’re using to break it down

There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them❷;. Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done”, and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to them all in advance. For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is far easier and is usually helped by this direct action. (Letter #6)

❶ “Worry” makes you think about things instead of the One Who every “thing” answers to.

❷ God wants you to ask, “What now?” The enemy wants you to ask, “What if?”

❸ God wants you to focus on what’s happening today and not what might happen tomorrow (Matt 6:34).

❹ God gives you what you need for today. Inevitably, the things that are going to weigh on you the most have yet to happen, which is why you want to limit your perspective to what God is doing not and don’t allow your brain to be “hollowed” by the things you can’t know.

❺ Satan tries to get you to try and contemplate all your problems simultaneously – even those that have yet to happen and may never occur.

❻ There’s no logic in trying to process every worse case scenario all at the same time, yet that is the tendency when you’re on edge. In that moment, take a breath, focus on what’s directly in front of you, apply the Wisdom and Peace God provides – now you’re calm and approaching your challenge(s) from a position of strength.

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow – Focus on Today

Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt 6:34).” When He was asked by His disciples how to pray, part of His response was to ask for your “daily bread (Matt 6:11).” These are the Truths that Lewis is using as the basis for his imaginary exchange between Wormwood and Screwtape.

And he nails it!

One day at a time and one thing at a time. When God says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” He’s not encouraging irresponsibility, He’s saying to not try and see beyond your headlights…

When I first moved to Nashville, there were times I was hanging on by a thread. Especially when my drums were stolen, I was broke, alone (no girlfriend) and no real professional prospects. When I first read this part of the “Screwtape Letters,” it resonated with me immediately because I could right away see how a person’s mental disposition can be so quickly and unnecessarily compromised by envisioning every worse case scenario all at once.

Perfect Peace

Isaiah 26:3 says:

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.(Is 26:3)

That word “mind,” can also be translated “imagination.” In other words, the peace that God provides is not directed only to the inventory of rational ideas you might have about what’s going on, but also to all those things you can imagine.

It would be interesting to know what Satan is attempting to do in order to trip you up. What would Wormwood’s letters to Screwtape look like if they were talking about how to get you to a place where you’re ready to break?

Inevitably it would be something similar to what you’re feeling now – overwhelmed and anxious.

Just remember: Daily bread is intended for one day. One thing at a time and be intentional about handing over to Him those things that you can’t control or anticipate.

Here’s some other quotes from the same book…

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.” 

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

“Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…”

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

“Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

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