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The Screwtape Letters Week 4 of 7 – Book Club

July 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

The Problem with the Future
The Screwtape Letters Week 4 of 7

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He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all the-good-portion-pictureday for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future – haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth – ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other – dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present. – The Screwtape Letters p. 77-78 (Chapter 15, Paragraph 4)

When I read this passage, I thought it was good advice…for other people. I have a few friends and relatives who get caught up in the future. But me? I’ve never really considered myself a worrier. I don't tend to get too caught up in things I can't control.

Or so I thought.

While I don’t generally focus on the future, I don’t think my frame of mind is what God is looking for either. The fact that I keep myself so busy that I don’t have time to think is no reason to pat myself on the back for not getting caught up in the future. In my case, I don’t necessarily think about the present either – I walk right through it, come out on the other side, and fall into bed, exhausted.

However, if I were being completely honest with myself, when I get around to thinking at all, it's very difficult NOT to think about the future.

Case in point.  After reading the above passage from our book, I set off for a morning walk. My experience was surprisingly revealing.

About a month ago, we learned that we’re expecting our seventh child (yea!). However…although I have heard the heartbeat, I’ve suffered two miscarriages in less than two years.  Understandably, when I allow myself to think about this baby, it is with a sort of cautious excitement.

While I accept that I have no control over the outcome of this pregnancy, I have not exactly washed my mind of the whole subject and committed the issue to Heaven. Rather, I’ve been avoiding the issue altogether (perhaps one reason for my recent bout with television?)

So during this particular walk, I didn’t avoid it. I thought about it.

And the anxiety began.  One thought led to another which led to another and another, until my heart rate skyrocketed, not from physical exertion, but from all the mental anguish I created for myself.

Will this baby be with us in seven months? What if we have to endure another miscarriage? On the other hand, what if this baby is with us in seven months? Doing the parenting math, I will be about 64 before this child is out of college!  I still have 21 years of direct parental responsibility. And then the big bomb hit – This could mean 19 more years of homeschooling (As much as I enjoy teaching my kids, this realization just about caused a heart attack right there on the street).

At some point through all my antics, Screwtape slipped into the chaos. And he was smiling.  (A little too cocky for his own good.)  This was an instant reminder that, while the Evil One may want me to focus on the future, God does not. For my own sake, He’d much rather I remain in the present.

So I did.  I physically stopped myself, making a conscious effort to focus on the present before I took another step.

The first thing I noticed was my immediate environment. I was walking along a beautiful country road in hilly Eastern Nebraska. There was a gorgeous sun shining above my head and farmland as far as the eye could see. The road was lined with all sorts of foliage – from colorful wildflowers to soaring oak trees – that provided plenty of shade from the scorching sun.

My first coherent thought in the present? GOD IS SO GOOD!

This recognition opened a streak of gratitude a mile wide.

Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful land. Thank you for the beautiful sky. Thank you for giving me the ability to take this walk. Thank you for the home in which we are blessed to live. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this baby right now. Thank you for giving me the six children we’ve enjoyed raising so far. Thank you for my wonderful husband.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wow, what a difference thinking about the present makes!

And then I took a few moments to focus on this precious little one.

It occurs to me that much of the emotional pain I experienced through three miscarriages was a direct result of giving the Future my heart.  As Screwtape describes, I’d placed my treasure in it. My excitement was wrapped up in my hopes and dreams for each child. How precious to hold him in my arms, to rock him to sleep, to watch my other children play with him on the floor. I imagined the family dynamics through the years, conjuring up all the love we would lavish on that child through his life. With the realization that those plans and dreams would never come to pass…in this world…came great sadness and loss.

How would my Heavenly Father want me to approach this pregnancy – and every other relationship and situation in my life? He would want me to keep my thoughts trained on the present, and on eternity. So from this moment, I will be grateful that I am privileged to enjoy this baby TODAY. If tomorrow comes, I will enjoy it then. Regardless, God-willing, we will all share eternity together.


Reading Assignment:  Chapter 21-26

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.  Do you ever get wrapped up in the Future?  Or in the past?  If so, how do you manage to regain your focus?

2.  Please comment on anything from this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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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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  • Jeanette

    First of all, Congratulations Vicki on your pregnancy!

    I want to put forward some thoughts I learned from a book called Power Thoughts: Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it.” What we think will consequently bring forth what we speak….our words hold the power of life or death. Every day we are in a constant battle over our minds but God has given us the fruit of self control so we don’t have to allow our thoughts to control our actions. Galatians 5:22 “What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.” What you have done Vicki is absolutely perfect! You were intentional in your thinking…you turned it around. You exercised control over your thoughts by making a wise choice. Thank you so much for this reminder.

    When I start to worry about decisions to be made for the future, I can get myself quite worked up but then I will remember to say: “Jesus, I trust in You.” This helps me let go and let God. God bless you Vicki!

  • Dear Vicki,

    Your post was a gift for me today. I needed this sobering reminder, thank you! My Confessor has gone to great lengths to explain “living in the present” to me and shares that thought it is difficult, with conscious effort, it is also very attainable. It’s taken me 45 years to learn that. I look back and as a child, I was always looking towards the future because my present wasn’t happiness to me. As I got older, I started reminiscing of the past I had wanted to escape, as my present, my future, wasn’t what I thought it would be. There was always an unexplained emptiness. It wasn’t until I became a mother at 38 that I began to understand more of living in the present. The devil indeed had a field day for all those years.

    The last four years have been some of the most challenging of my life – where I’ve had the least amount of control – I’ve had to completely surrender on so many levels. As painful as that’s been, I’m also extremely grateful. Like you, I see more beauty and think and say “God is good” far more often because I’m in the present and I have to accept exactly what is occurring. There is an odd peace that comes with that “uncertainty”; perhaps because it isn’t uncertain at all. I know that it’s the handiwork of God teaching me exactly what it means to surrender and be solely dependent on Him. My prayer for years was for Him to show me what it was He wanted of me … my prayer has been answered.

    I pray for your pregnancy and for your peace in this moment. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts here.

    God’s peace, Mary’s love,


  • LizEst

    Congratulations on your new pregnancy, Vicki. Funny thing, even before I read this, your name (and picture) has been recently and insistently popping into my prayers. So, I have already been praying for you and will continue to pray for you and your new little one and all your family.

    As to looking forward and looking back. Father Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J. has written a whole book called “Self-Abondonment to Divine Providence,” sometimes translated as “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” There is a lot of good stuff to chew on in this book.

    We live our present lives in time. So, it’s OK to pray for something in the future. What we should do is make our prayers, and then add “Thy will be done.” The important thing is not to become attached to the future. As the old song says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow ’cause tomorrow never comes!” This is how St. Paul instructs us, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Just as Christ calmed the waters, so Christ calms every fear. Therefore, we must put our faith and trust in the Lord, that He hears us and will give what is best for us, according to His infinite goodness. Adding “Thy will be done” is what helps me regain my focus.

    Thank you for continuing to write, even through your pregnancy. God bless you, Vicki!

  • AntonetteTherese

    Congratulations, Vicki, on your pregnancy!

    I can’t believe I missed this nugget of wisdom when I was reading!

    I spent years obsessing over the future. They were very unhappy years, I must add. I was so afraid of what the future might hold and I constantly tried to take things into my hands that weren’t really mine to take. I felt like I was carrying a heavy burden.

    I keep referring to the situation with my son (12 years old and with leukemia again) because it has taught me so much. The day before we found his leukemia had relapsed, I checked Abandonment to Divine Providence out of our church library. Such a profound book! I also re-read St. Therese’s autobiography, and she has helped me understand about walking with a child-like faith. Our future right now is full of so many unknowns, but I don’t concern myself with it. It’s not mine to know. What I am called to do is ask God what He wants me to do now. And even if I don’t particularly understand why He leading us in a particular way, it doesn’t bother me. This is a drastic change from before!
    Because I know many of you are praying for Sam, I thought I’d let you know that the clinical trial he was supposed to start in a few weeks ago closed 2 hours before his first treatment. He was instead started on another chemo that I think his doctor didn’t have much hope would work. Sam is responding very well to this chemo and we will find out just how well on Friday.
    Antonette Therese

    • Jeanette

      I continue to keep Sam, you and your family in my daily prayers. Thank you for the update on Sam’s condition. Thank you for your witness regarding your new found abandonment to Divine Providence. God is so good!

  • Wow, I shall be waiting with you for the new Baby!!!. This line sums it all up for me

    “He would want me to keep my thoughts trained on the present, and on eternity.”

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