In The Four Loves, C S Lewis explains one particular perversion of affection. This sort of “love” turns the posture of giving into an idol. The giver has to give in order to feel necessary. The giving itself makes demands. It lords generosity over others. It fulfills its own need by giving, and indeed, the gift nearly destroys those it is given to. Lewis illustrates this through the character of Mrs. Fidget:
Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone in the neighborhood knew it. “She lives for her family,” they said; “what a wife and mother!” She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to a laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in midsummer). They implored her not to provide this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family. She always sat up to “welcome” you home if you were out late at night; two or three in the morning, it made no odds; you would always find the frail, pale, weary face awaiting you like a silent accusation. Which meant of course that you couldn’t with any decency go out very often. She was always making things too; being in her own estimation (I’m no judge myself) an excellent amateur dressmaker and a great knitter. And of course, unless you were a heartless brute, you had to wear the things. (The Vicar tells me that, since her death, the contributions of that family alone to the “sales of work” outweigh those of all his other parishioners put together.) And then her care for their health! She bore the whole burden of that daughter’s “delicacy” alone. The Doctor- an old friend, and it was not being done on National Health- was never allowed to discuss matters with his patient. After the briefest examination of her, he was taken into another room by the mother. The girl was to have no worries, no responsibility for her own health. Only loving care, caress, special foods, horrible tonic wines, and breakfast in bed. For Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would “work her fingers to the bone” for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they- being decent people- quietly sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her do things for them which they didn’t want done. As for the dear dog, it was to her, she said, “Just like one of the children.” It was in fact, as like one of them as she could make it. But since it had no scruples it got on rather better than they, and though vetted, dieted and guarded within an inch of its life, contrived sometimes to reach the dustbin or the dog next door.
The Vicar says Mrs. Fidget is now at rest. Let us hope she is. What’s quite certain is that her family are.
This sort of affection is very common among “strong” families. It takes the form of genuine love, but what becomes clear is that the Mrs. Fidgets of the world are exacting a daunting price from their families. They make their families despise this form of “love” and often end up alienating those which they are supposedly doing so much for.
I believe this is why the Bible spends the time that it does on joy and contentment. It is true that Christianity requires a radical moral discipline. It avoids dour moralism, however, by equally emphasizing happiness. This theme is widespread throughout the Bible, and limiting ourselves to a subset of the Pauline literature we find these instructions:
Rom. 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Rom. 14:17-18 For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Philippians 1: 25-26 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
1 Thes. 5:16 Be joyful always.
So the moral to our story today is to lighten up!
We know from Tradition and the testimony of the saints that the “happiness” of us natural men and spiritual infants is dissimilar from the joy those who have truly conquered the fleshly inclination of their wills, purified their hearts and seen the Spirit praying within their innermost depths.
Thanks for the Mercersburg links. They were really helpful.