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The Screwtape Letters Week 2 of 7 – Book Club

June 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Screwtape Letters Week 2 of 7

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Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.  The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor.  It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories of the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning good portion picture1to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.  – The Screwtape Letters, p. 7 (Chapter 2, paragraph 3)

Letter to my Newly Married Little Sister:


You did it! The wedding dress, the flowers, the limo, all the bridesmaids with matching purple toenail polish, the decorations, the dinner, the D.J., the dancing, the tossing of the bouquet, and last but not least, the magnificent week-long honeymoon in Mexico.

Today, you embark on the amazing journey that is to be your life together.

I’m so happy for you. As someone who has been married for nearly nineteen years, I can assure you that being married is a joy.  Better than anyone I'll ever meet, my husband knows me.  Together we’ve shared our hopes, dreams, successes, failures, joys and disappointments, as well as periods of suffering and desolation.

Between us we’ve had high times and – believe it or not – we’ve had low times. But knowing that we're in this for the long haul has helped us to resolve our difficulties more quickly and to enjoy those exciting moments with the absolute assurance that we would share these memories with great joy even years from now.

While married life has been an amazing gift, I must share with you that I did not always expect it to be.  You know where I'm coming from.  You, too, have always worn rose colored glasses, hopeful but always secretly wondering when and if the roses will fade. As children of not one divorce, but several, we were led to believe that love, although great and exciting  – doesn’t always last. How we hoped to be among the “lucky ones!”

Dale and I had a conversation when we were first engaged that turned out to be one of the most profound and life-changing I’ve ever had. It started out with a casual off-the-cuff comment by Yours Truly. I was leaning against the wall in my apartment when I said, “If we’re this unaffectionate when we’re engaged, imagine how pathetic our relationship will be in 20 years. It’s only going to get worse from here, you know.” I had been just a little frustrated by how we lacked the “goo-goo” eyes and “syrupy,” kissy-face romance I’d seen in the movies. (By the way – I’ve noticed the two of you share the “Hollywood-style” affection. Note Dale’s response anyway – it still applies.)

Dale looked me in the eyes and very seriously said, “You’re wrong. Our relationship will only get better with time. My parents have been married almost 40 years. And I guarantee you they are more in love now than they were when they first got married.” When he saw the doubt in my eyes, he went on to explain himself. He told me how his parents had raised nine children together, shared their grief through various family deaths, endured the tragedy of a stillborn, the joyous marriages of several children, followed by grandchildren and so on. He asked how they could possibly have loved each other more before they had shared forty years of intimate experience together.

I'm sure you’re as surprised as I was by his comments (In my skewed view of love, I believed relationships started at the top and either continued on a flat continuum or headed for a downhill slide – never did I think the “love graph” would show an upward trend!).  Yet here we are. We’re almost to that twenty-year mark. And I can tell you that he was absolutely right. I love him like I could never have imagined 20 years ago. We’ve truly grown to be two parts of a greater whole.

But I don’t want to sugar-coat things and lead you to believe that love is easy. Despite the fact that we’re more in love than ever, the truth is that marriage is tough. It’s not all romance and adulation. If you’re a neat freak, I’ve no doubt it will get under your skin when Bobby leaves his dirty clothes on the chair in your room. And while he may like to be 15 minutes early for everything, he might find that with you, he’s always sure to be 15 minutes late.

When the going gets tough – don’t quit!!

Several years ago, I worked for a nonprofit organization, wherein I planned a PR campaign on marriage. In my research, I found a very interesting fact. Researchers interviewed couples with marital problems, and then kept track of those who “stuck it out,” as well as those who “threw in the towel.” Overwhelmingly, when interviewed again five years later, those who stuck it out claimed to be significantly more happy in their marriages than they had been when they had originally acknowledged their problems. This remained true whether those couples sought counseling or not. Generally, it was concluded that marriage has its ebbs and flows – ups and downs. Those who struggle through the difficult times together, find their marriages are stronger and happier than they could have imagined.

Why is this? Researchers hypothesized that, like everything else in life, struggles tend to strengthen marital relationships. Sharing the good times and working through the bad help a couple to develop a history that can only be shared and understood by them. It is private. It is special. And it is profound.

Ask yourself – is there anything worth doing that is actually easy? You may have some rough spots now and then – perhaps even for long bouts of now and long bouts of then. It may take a while to work through the pain. But I can assure you, that as you stood before God and all the clouds of witnesses, inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of your marriage, He will honor that request by using every crack in the road to help you grow in sanctity. He will prune away at each of you, little by little, helping you to grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Here are a few final thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Although marriage can and should make people happy, it cannot make them perfectly happy. Perfect happiness cannot be found here on earth. It can be found only in Heaven. So if one insists on expecting perfect happiness from marriage, one is bound to be disappointed.
  • Second, and equally important, although marriage can make people happy, it cannot make them effortlessly happy. Happiness is not found easily; it takes an effort. Easy happiness does not last. This means there is no such thing as a happy marriage without an effort.
  • From the general principle, “marriage should make people happy,” one should not too quickly or too easily draw the particular conclusion, “Marriage should make me happy.” If made in strict logic, the conclusion follows. But if made – as it so often is – in a spirit of impatience, self-pity, bitterness, or indignation, it almost certainly proceeds less from logic than from self-centeredness. And marriage, if approached self-centeredly, is just not going to work – that is, it is not going to make anyone happy. – Covenanted Happiness, p. 69


 Reading Assignment:  Chapter 8-14

 Note:  While you’re reading along (and even if you can’t), make sure you check out this magnificent Radio Production of The Screwtape Letters by our own Paul McCusker. Excellent Production!

Discussion Questions:  1.  Any additional advice for the new couple?  2.  Please comment on anything from this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Thank you for this post! I was feeling discouraged today but this inspired me to work harder! I’m not qualified to give advice. But your reflection reminded me of a poem I’ve read.

    Fall in Love by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907—1991)

    Nothing is more practical than
    finding God, than
    falling in Love
    in a quite absolute, final way.
    What you are in love with,
    what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
    It will decide
    what will get you out of bed in the morning,
    what you do with your evenings,
    how you spend your weekends,
    what you read, whom you know,
    what breaks your heart,
    and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
    Fall in Love, stay in love,
    and it will decide everything.

    He doesn’t just say “Fall in Love” but also “stay in love.” That is the hard part. But I guess that is also the part that will truly decide everything. 🙂

    • idaloren

      Hey! That’s one of my favorite poems (I wasn’t aware it was a poem until now, but anyway..) To ‘stay in love’ is truly the hardest part. Whether it is one’s relationship with God, with one’s spouse, or even with our friends or siblings or acquaintances.

      “In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.”

      When I decided to become serious in my faith it was more of an aspiration. How I dreamed to become like the saints — people who truly love the Lord. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that even though I’ve read so much about our faith, I was far from what they are.There was the desire to be closer to Him, but various attachments kept me from doing so: I wanted to be prayerful, but I made excuses not to pray; I wanted to be better with my relationship with others, but I still wanted people to be ‘good’ first, before I treat them well. And when I realized how weak I am, I turned away. There were a lot of these episodes the past years, and even now.

      For me, the big hurdle is pride — to admit that I was weak. I still struggle with this — in fact before I started reading this week’s assignment I was feeling down again (like you, @e207f3ce77bfbba9a0c3ff7ea456d6c0:disqus ). To admit weakness, to get up again, to labor and persevere is really hard. But this is what it means to ‘stay in love’.

      And what is most wonderful is how it is mostly God’s doing that we continue to persevere. Indeed, everything is grace.

  • LizEst

    Marriage is now your vocation; make it a holy vocation! It is not always going to be a 50-50 relationship. Sometimes it is going to require you to give 110%. In a similar sense, marriage is also like the cross: you have to die to yourself in order to give life: life to your spouse and life to your children. And, in that dying to self, you will find joy and peace and strength to weather the difficulties, frustrations and temptations that the world, the flesh and the devil will throw your way. The devil is jealous of your happiness because it is a reflection of the happiness that awaits us in our eternal life to come.

    Always keep in mind that neither you nor your husband are God; so, don’t expect perfection from him or yourself. Forgive and don’t hold grudges; don’t keep score. Keep a sense of humor. And, don’t go to bed angry. Above all, keep Christ in your marriage.

    • RobinJeanne

      Amen Sisiter!!!

      In Marriage Encounter they teach not 50-50 because that means you are only giving half yourself, half your effort but that we should always give 100% all our best effort, all our self in to the relationship. As too in anything we do we should never do anything “half@@@” but whole heartedly, whether it is in our marriage, work place, our relationship with God, etc…..


    On July 15 of this year we will celebrate our 53rd. wedding anniversary. I think the glue that holds our marriage together is love. I know that sounds trite, but how else can I explain the bond that I couldn’t break? After all, we were both in love with the same guy! It is true, at least in my case, that I love my wife more now than I did when we were first married. How do I know that? Because as time passes I have come to know and appreciate qualities of character that i didn’t give a thought to when we were first married. We had five children, four made it, one didn’t. We have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.Our life together has been full. My advice to newly marrieds is to pay attention to acts of courtesy and appreciation—a note in the laundry basket, say ‘thank you’ and ‘plese’ open the door for her, wash the dinner dishes, complement a meal, etc. Good luck and God bless.

    • LizEst

      Congratulations to you and your wife on 53 years of marriage! A wonderful testimony and example of love…and an inspiration. God bless both of you and all your family.

    • Vicki

      Thank you for sharing your advice – it means so much coming from someone who is celebrating his 53rd anniversary! Congratulations to you and your wife – your family is truly blessed!

  • Pamela Bell Houk

    I like your letter to your sister. My parents celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary tomorrow. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful example of marital love from my parents. Six children, 17 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren.

    • LizEst

      …and congratulations to your parents tomorrow on their 59th wedding anniversary tomorrow. Yes, a blessed example!

    • Vicki

      How exciting!! Congratulations to your parents – your family is so blessed!

  • Loretta

    Just want to share some words St. Catherine of Siena ascribed to God: “I ask you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I loved you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me — that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me” (Dialogue, 64) May God give us the grace to love better.

    • LizEst

      Thank you for this reminder. That is a beautiful part of the Dialogue. God bless you, Loretta.

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