The Problem With The Middle (C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters 28)

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape continues to teach his understudy Wormwood how to destroy the human he is assigned to. In Letter 28, Screwtape tells Wormwood that a long life can be a great advantage to temptation. Screwtape says Wormwood should use length of life because it is harder to keep devotion and easy to become discouraged and disappointed.
Depression was once called the Noonday Demon because it struck in the middle of life. It used to be known as sloth when it still belonged to theology. It has always been a despair that forms from a lack of desire and a lack of action. It is the result of getting stuck in the middle.
The middle of a thing is always the hardest. We get bogged down. We lose sight of the goal. We get tired. It is easy to sink. The middle is the hardest part. It is easy to start something and it is easy to finish. But the middle is another thing altogether.
The Bible often refers to the Christian life as a race. I Corinthians 9 takes the metaphor of a race and builds on it. It talks about the discipline necessary to compete in The Race. I Corinthians 9:23-27 says

“I do all things for the sake of the gospel that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

Whenever I think about avoiding being stuck in the middle, I think of Dan O Brien. Dan O Brien is considered by many to be the best athlete to ever compete in the decathlon. In 1992, he was a sure thing to win the Gold Medal at the Olympics in Barcelona. In fact, at the Olympic trials, he was on a pace to set the world record. Then he came to the pole vault. He tried an easy height, a height he had cleared many times before. On all three attempts he faulted and his disqualification on the pole vault eliminated him from the 1992 Olympic team. The best athlete of the 1990s did not even qualify for the Olympics.
His downfall? He was ever so slightly out of shape and lacked the preparation for the qualifiers.
He got the message. He set the world record later that year and would go on to win in Gold in 96. O Brien himself once said, “The decathlon is like life. You have good events and bad events, good days and bad days, and you have to get through them all.”
Sounds like Christianity. We have good days and bad days, and we have to get through them all. We cannot afford to get lazy in the middle.


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