WHAT GOOD IS RUNNING WHEN YOU’RE ON THE WRONG ROAD? This bit of conventional wisdom catches us all. And we tend to stay on the wrong roa longer than we should. Why is that? It’s quite likely that we Christians stay on the wrong road because we like who we are! Sometimes we’re more selfish than we want to be. Sometimes we’re more fearful than we want to be. But that doesn’t mean we’re ready to embrace, in a practical, day-to-day way, some doctrinal teaching about self-abandonment or self-surrender.
At this point CS Lewis’ writing can be helpful. Through the use of fantasy, he clearly illustrated how we get such a self-focused, skewed idea. Through Screwtape, Lewis is able to reassure us that God “sets an absurd value” on our “distinctness.” And then he said this about human beings: “When [Christ] talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts … that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever” (Screwtape Letters 65).
When we read about the lives of the great Christians, none of them lost their personality or “distinctness.” Peter didn’t lose his recognizable impatience and brashness. Paul still continued to say too much about too many things. Augustine emphasized physical sins more, perhaps, than he should have. Luther was at times more ungracious and disagreeable than he intended to be. And Wesley’s fusty aloofness and self-righteousness never quite disappeared even when he was at his best. All were able to do great things in Christ without becoming something vague and unrecognizable.
And so, if being on the wrong road is a turning from God to self, then our conversion, our return to the right road, must of necessity be an abandonment of self as we turn back to God. Such meekness of surrender doesn’t just occur once, but daily and hourly. Through Christ—moment by moment, step by step—we become better at being who we are. Then, as Lewis wrote, our “deepest likings and impulses” are not lost but uplifted and regenerated (Screwtape 65). (Turning Aside to See, chapter 36)