A Grief Observed

a grief observedA Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis. Originally published in 1961 under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk. You can read it for free here.

This was one of only two of C.S. Lewis’ non fiction works that I had never read. As I read through this very short journal that Lewis used to process his grief in the wake of the death of his beloved wife, I was struck with two thoughts.

The first was that for a man who was married so late in life for so brief a time, he had a very deep and rich perspective on the one flesh relationship. Perhaps this was precisely because he was married so late in life for so brief a time.  The second was that this was the stuff Lewis jotted down in a journal at night, at least this was often how the musings seemed to read, as he writhed in the agony of grief and bewilderment that a good God would allow such suffering and pain in the life of His children.

Who writes so eloquently at a time like this, while banging on Heaven’s door only to feel as if he’s not getting a response?

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

The disquieting and discomfited feeling of wondering whether everything you have grown to believe about God could possibly true is palpable in Lewis’ journal. One of the most true and pitiful thoughts was that we often, in our distress, forget completely about the one we are supposedly distressed for. Their pain, their suffering (or the end of it) most assuredly takes a back seat to our feeling about the matter. Lewis realized how horrible that was, but at least he acknowledged it:

For the first time I have looked back and read these notes. They appall me. From the way I’ve been talking anyone would think that H.’s death mattered chiefly for its effect on myself. Her point of view seems to have dropped out of sight. Have I forgotten the moment of bitterness when she cried out, ‘And there was so much to live for’?

As Lewis determines to buy no more notebooks in which to chronicle his grief, it reminded me of how David came full circle in the Psalms:

And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them. Indeed, H.’s death has ended the practical problem. While she was alive I could, in practice, have put her before God; that is, could have done what she wanted instead of what He wanted; if there’d been a conflict. What’s left is not a problem about anything I could do. It’s all about weights of feelings and motives and that sort of thing. It’s a problem I’m setting myself.

I don’t know how many times I myself have said the very words indicated in bold above, and I am nowhere near the thinker or writer that C.S. Lewis was. Those who know me well have certainly heard it often enough, and it really is what life is all about when you get down to it. It can be a bitter pill, and it does nothing to alleviate our immediate suffering, but it’s good medicine that heals the soul and gives us purpose as we move forward through the challenges of life.

I give this book and A, but certainly not because it’s anywhere near the best C.S. Lewis book. It isn’t. I give it an A because if there were ever such thing as a philosophical rock star, Lewis fits the bill. And if there were ever such a thing as a literary groupie, then I have fit that bill in regards to Lewis for a good long time now.

3 thoughts on “A Grief Observed

  1. Elspeth says:

    A quick note: I didn’t read the online version, but a paper back copy that my daughter picked up from our local library. We’re big library patrons in this house. Anyway, the edition I read had the foreword written by C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham. I was fortunate to run across that one because his well written introduction was also worth the read.


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