Everything I ever needed to know about the single life I learned from C.S. Lewis.
Long before I knew my ring finger would remain ring-free late into my 30s, Lewis’ books counseled me in prudence and fortitude, chastity and temperance, patience and trust.
Of all the lessons I learned from him, however, I think the most important was this: Do not give the future your heart. Do not place your treasure in it.
Being a planner who likes to efficiently organize everything, including time, that particular piece of advice (which comes by way of The Screwtape Letters) has been hard to follow.
My mind invariably tends to skip ahead, seeing goals, contemplating how best to reach them and imagining how lovely life will be once they’re reached.
Sometimes that’s a helpful habit (when planning parties, for instance), but it also can be a recipe for frustration.
That’s especially true if the goal in mind is marriage.
It’s good, of course, to discern the vocation to which God calls us. It’s also good to pursue that vocation. If it’s marriage, that means going out into the world, meeting and dating and (while we wait) getting our own house in order — emotionally, spiritually and financially.
Nevertheless, there’s only so much we can do to that end. No amount of mixing and mingling, dating or novena praying can make Mr. or Miss Right appear on command.
God does not work according to our schedule. If we expect otherwise, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
More disappointing still is believing that happiness lies only in the wedding ring, the honeymoon or the babies.
The danger in that is manifold.
First, if we believe our happiness depends on one (and only one) vision of the future coming true, we’re much more likely to make problematic compromises in the present.
So if we think we can never be happy without the wedding ring, we’re more likely to throw chastity, prudence and even our faith out the window in order to get that ring —which, no matter what the culture says, is actually a sure path to unhappiness.
Second, when our heart dwells upon the future and sees in the present only the lack of what it desires, it misses both the beauty and the duties inherent in the present moment.
As Lewis saw it, God wants us to attend primarily to two things: eternity (or, him) and the present, "for the present is the point at which time touches eternity."
Which is to say, God is in the present. Only he can make us truly and eternally happy, and we won’t find him in some imaginary future.
Instead, we find him in the here and now: in the new-fallen snow, the hot cup of coffee, the tired face of the clerk at the grocery store and the whispered prayers of the priest at Mass.
It’s also in the here and now that we find the grace to become the men and women God made us to be. That grace comes to us through the present deadlines that need meeting, the present people who need loving and the present floors that need scrubbing, as well as the present sacraments that need receiving.
We may not now have all that we’d like to have. We may not now be doing all that we’d like to do. But now is where God wants us to abide, enjoying the present moment, receiving the present grace, enduring the present cross — that’s the surest path to joy, today and eternally.
No matter how lovely our visions of the future might be, we can’t borrow anything from tomorrow except for trouble. Best not to try.
Emily Stimpson writes books
and blogs about the single
life and Catholic living.
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