It is true that we are far too stingy when it comes to doling out grace to others and far too generous in serving ourselves. That’s because our faults are understandable. Indeed, we understand them well. It’s the faults of others that are truly incomprehensible. And we would straighten them out were they not so crooked that they would never listen to us.
This is the problem that C.S. Lewis tackles in his essay “The Trouble with X.” The cover of the little pamphlet is informative with its collage of characters all exed out. The real problem for our lack of happiness is, we think, as Lewis demonstrates, other people.
This is, of course, patently false. The real issue is that we are X. We are the ones with the real problem, at least the only real ones upon which we can, or should, devote our energy and attention. This is not to say there are not specific issues which require our examination of others. But Lewis is showing us that we take what should be the exception and make it the rule.
We may make criticism our pet privilege today, but tomorrow it will become our master. It will soon outgrow the arbitrary leash we place upon it. That’s because as long as we think the real problem is outside of us, we will spend all of our energy fixing others—or at least talking about how they need to be fixed—instead of ever looking within where our deepest problems reside.
“We must love ‘X’ more,” Lewis writes, “and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind.” But it is difficult to turn our gaze from other’s faults to look at the darkness in our own hearts or the patterns of uncharitable behavior in our own lives. It’s always easier to point to others, but this is only to miss the point of God’s sanctifying work in us. “Of all the awkward people in your house or job,” Lewis says, “there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.”
The real trouble with X is the trouble we see every morning in the mirror. And the day to start working on this problem is today. Let us resign our self-appointed posts of Character Analysis Experts and Designated Discernment Deputies. Let us turn in the badges we have made and pinned on ourselves of “Pride Patrol” and “Motive Monitor.”
Let us remove the beam before we work on the speck (Matthew 7:5). Let us turn our attention to where it is needed most. “The matter is serious,” Lewis reminds us, “let us put ourselves in His hands at once—this very day, this hour.” Amen.