My two-year-old daughter learns a new word or phrase every day. “Come here,” “No Daddy,” “Yes please” are all expressions of newfound communication that cause my wife and I great joy. However, just recently she started to believe that some things belong exclusively to her. Suddenly, great offense is taken when a toy or book is removed or shared with someone else. Things that were once accepted as gifts and pure blessings are placed under her rapidly growing ownership. She has learned “mine.”
C.S. Lewis in his overwhelmingly insightful book The Screwtape Letters provides a startling commentary on human beings’ attraction to ownership. In order to properly understand the quotation below, keep in mind that this is Screwtape (an experienced demon), teaching Wormwood (his nephew and new tempter) an effective method for distracting and entrapping Wormwood’s ‘patient’.
“You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels.
The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies…
…We have taught men to say ‘My God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘My boots’, meaning ‘The God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit—the God I have done a corner in’ .And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” (Pages 33-34) (Emphasis added)
I hesitate attempting to elaborate on the brilliance you just read, but a few points must be emphasized. Isn’t it amazing that we perceive anything as belonging to us? It’s one thing to acknowledge my pants, shoes, dog, or donut, but so often that possessive mentality translates to a fictitious yet seemingly self-empowering mentality of my gifts, talents, faith, goals, dreams, etc. Lewis begs the reader through the words of Screwtape to recognize the absurdity of designating anything as something other than a pure gift. Every breath, joy, trial, friendship, and meal are given or allowed by the God of the Universe who desperately loves us. Our posture should always involve gratitude and a certain “mind explosion” that we have been given these opportunities.
Obviously, effective communication requires the occasional use of “mine.” However, let’s keep in mind the disposition of our hearts when we take possession of something or someone. Let’s remember how all of life is a precious gift.
I’m sure a lot of what we do causes some proverbial chuckles in the spiritual realm, but as Lewis pointed out, let the heavenly laughter not be about “mine.”