Being Preoccupied with Self

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

C.S. Lewis

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” 

– C.S. Lewis
The Secret Tape Letters book

In his classic volume, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis offers 31 imaginary letters from Screwtape, the primary personality of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior devil just starting his first assignment on earth. The purpose of the correspondence, done humorously, is to show how Hell seeks constantly to divert would-be Christians from following the ways of Heaven. 

In one note, Screwtape tells Wormwood the most productive way to overcome good people is to not only work on their pride, but infect them with a sense of false pride… 

“Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately, pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt— and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.” [1] 

We need to stay sensitive to the danger of pride. We easily fall into the pit of being preoccupied with ourselves. Jesus told a parable about this. (Jn. 18:9-14) The story is simple and straightforward. Two men went into the Temple to pray. One boasted to God of all his good qualities; the other simply asked for God’s mercy. The reason Jesus told the parable is expressed in verse 9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” 

For years I missed the connection Jesus made: how we feel about ourselves has a result on how we feel about and treat others. Get it? They were righteous and despised others.” 

Two failures are implicit here: we look at ourselves in relation to others and fail to look at ourselves in relation to God. In either case the warning is clear: don’t fall into the pit of being preoccupied with your yourself. 

-Maxie Dunnam