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The Screwtape Letters Week 5 of 7 – Book Club

July 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Screwtape Letters Week 5 of 7

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Time's a Tickin'!

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed the-good-portion-picturethat nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tȇte-à-tȇte with the friend), that throws him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright. – The Screwtape Letters (p. 111-112) (Chapter 21, Paragraph 2-3)

We prioritize it. We schedule it. We measure it. We race it. And, let’s be honest – sometimes we do ‘kill’ it. Regardless, time is limited, and for the most part, we tend to do everything we can to stretch it as far as possible before we run out. In the far recesses of our minds, we all hold fast to Benjamin Franklin’s notion that “Lost time is never found again.”

Because time is finite, time management is serious business. Over the years I’ve collected a mountain of books on the subject.  And if there’s one thing I seem to love more than living by a schedule, it’s creating a schedule. In fact, if I spent half as much time living my life as I spend planning it, I’m sure I’d be amazed at what I could accomplish. I’ve created and recreated schedules running from morning till night, developed a rule of life for our family, and found efficiency in everything from a master housecleaning chart to a binder full of weekly shopping lists for complete dinner menus. I am a time-saving guru!

Until I get interrupted.

If some unexpected event throws me off-track, the game is over. At that point, one of two things is bound to happen. Either, like Superman’s kryptonite, those interruptions render me weak, unmotivated and unproductive (as in, “I didn’t get X,Y or Z done when I planned, so why worry about it now?”), OR, I get right back on track; but in that case I’m often frustrated and short-tempered and no amount of “catching up” inspires an attitude change.

So why can’t I just go with the flow when life throws a fast one?

Light bulb. Even if I’ve planned my entire day in a way that I believe will best glorify God, the fact is that I’ve planned my day.  But God may have other plans.

I must ask myself – is my true allegiance to God, or to the “masterpiece” I call my Schedule?

I'm reminded of my two-year-old daughter when she asked if she could “help” wash the table recently. Silly me. I actually believed her motivation was to help Mommy. Since I had just washed the table, I offered her another opportunity.  First, I encouraged her enthusiastically for wanting to help.  Then I showed her a small pile of toys and asked if she wanted to put them in the toy box. Of course, she was deeply offended. She had wanted to help alright. But she wanted to do it HER way, or she didn’t want to help at all. Bottom line, she really wanted to play with a wet rag on the table.

What's my bottom line?

The fact is,  when God asks that I glorify Him by some other means than I have planned, in my heart, I stomp off like a little child because I would rather do it MY way.

But this is absolutely the wrong approach.  As Screwtape makes so clear, every moment is a pure gift.  A gift for which we should be so very thankful, no matter what the moment holds. Just because it’s not the moment I planned, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of my gratitude and devoted attention.

There is a wonderful scene in the movie, The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio, where the main character demonstrates this point beautifully:   Enjoy This Moment to the Fullest

Amidst all my scheduling, I must remember that my time on earth is but a journey to my true home. I may reach home twenty years from now, or I may reach it today. What truly matters is not whether I used all my time productively throughout my journey, but how much love and gratitude I shared in each moment along the way.

Reading Assignment:  Chapter 27-31

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.  Are you guilty of believing your time is your own?  If so, what helps you to redirect 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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  • Guest

    WOW…Your post is VERY fascinating to me because for the last two
    years I’ve struggled more then anything in my life with trying to make a
    schedule…just for a day, a week. I find it an impossibility to
    schedule…literally an impossibility. Even a meal plan and shopping
    list takes me 1 1/2 hours to make. My mind doesn’t work like that.

    After reading A mother’s Rule of LIfe which I so badly want to implement in
    my life, i just can’t seem to do it. I feel like a failure and I can’t
    help but feeling it’s a great impediment to my sanctity. And almost every
    day I almost envy nuns in a convent which simply have to follow the
    schedule and know they are doing God’s will…and not MAKE a schedule. I
    feel like I’ve been put in the job as Mother Superior and am failing
    miserably because I’m terribly disorganized it seems no matter how hard I try
    and I procrastinate (which is due to the fact that I don’t know what to
    do next and I spend MUCH time in indecisiveness .) I feel like I’m
    wasting God’s time because of my inability to schedule it well. Over
    the past week in order to save me from despair, I’ve come to the resolve to accept my inabilities as weaknesses and not so much as sin – and to trust in his mercy. Does this sound right? I really don’t want to make excuses for myself but I’m really not sure how to see this situation.

    I guess I have an opposite problem, has anyone else ever felt like
    this?? Anyone have any advice? It’s very eye-opening to see someone
    who is organized and well-scheduled to struggle against having the
    schedule interrupted. It helps me be grateful for the gifts I do have
    and that everyone has gifts and faults and to work in the midst of their
    weaknesses I suppose.

    thank you for reading my post.

    • Vicki

      I’m so glad you shared your thoughts. You bring up very good points for consideration. You said – “I’ve come to the resolve to accept my inabilities as weaknesses and not so much as sin – and to trust in his mercy.” I think whether it is a weakness or not depends on how you look at it. God certainly gives each of us different gifts. My husband is not a planner. But he would rather be 10 minutes late to a meeting and know that he waited for every one of our children who chased him to his car in the morning on his way to work, making sure that he gave them a huge hug and heard all their concerns or comments before he left. He’s much more concerned about relationships and not nearly as concerned about time. I see that as a great gift, while I’m sure he sees my ability to be organized as a gift. We are many parts of One Body. I’m sure in God’s grand design we all complement each other well. Thanks so much for reading with us!

    • Kathy

      I have been pondering your comment for awhile, and I hope it’s not too late to reply. What you said was beautiful, about seeing your inabilities as weaknesses and trusting in God’s mercy…humility, gratitude, and faith are such powerful weapons in this battle!

      Anytime you are bucking the culture, whether you’re a priest, religious, member of a lay apostolate, or just anyone who desires to love and serve the Lord, you’re going to get attacked and undermined. (I wish CS Lewis could write another chapter of the Letters about how the enemy sends out Special Ops agents to homeschooling mothers! 🙂

      What I said previously about interruptions really pertained to my wanting time to go my way, not because I have organized it well. Quite the contrary. I make lovely schedules, work them once-in-a-row, and then poof! It’s all gone.

      The enemy’s strongest weapons are his voice and the lies he whispers to us. He just loves to get you alone in the corner and tell you how unworthy you are to attempt to do anything for God, what a rotten job you’re doing at it, and the futility of even trying, so that you’ll want to just lay down and give up.

      When it comes to using great resources like “A Mother’s Rule” to help you to find order and balance, it is well to recognize that the author may not be in the exact same place as you are, and not to compare yourself or try to force yourself into the exact mold described in the book. Be gentle with yourself, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you which methods might work for your life and how to apply them, or who can help you to learn the skills you seek.

      I once attended a mini-retreat for homeschool moms, where the presenter was speaking about those fears and failures, and to my amazement, when I looked around the room, every face had tears rolling down it, just like mine! It’s like Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”…we all think we’re the only one.

      Sorry to run on, but I did want to tell you how much I appreciate your courage and thoughtfulness in asking the questions. It does us all good to hear them and know that we are not alone in our struggles. In our weakness we are strong, because our loving Lord can work through them to touch other hearts, just as He did through your comments.

      May God bless you and your family!

  • Jeanette

    I have to say when we read “Trustful Surrender” in this Book Club, it changed my view in that I take whatever happens in my day to day life as God’s Will. So unexpected events like interruptions, illness, offenses, humiliations, whatever it is, does not bother me as much now. I try to just go with the flow, so to speak, without worrying about whether I will get everything done that I wanted to get done each day. So, these thoughts prompt me to thank you Vicki once again and RC Spiritual Direction for the Book Club which no doubt has helped me and others so much!

    • Vicki

      Jeanette, Trustful Surrender is a life-changer! It’s been a huge help to me too! Definitely something I need to read periodically, though, or I get caught up in old habits. I think at this point, I’ve read it five times:). Thanks for your kind words – and Thanks be to God that we have this forum where we can all grow together!

  • “……Of course, she was deeply offended. She had wanted to help alright. But she wanted to do it HER way, or she didn’t want to help at all. Bottom line, she really wanted to play with a wet rag on the table……….The fact is, when God asks that I glorify Him by some other means than I have planned, in my heart, I stomp off like a little child, because I would rather do it MY way…..”

    Vicki, need I say anything more????? That’s me…..and @ two months shy of 75!!!!!!!

    • Vicki

      This just makes me laugh! Are you telling me the more we change, the more we stay the same?!:) Heaven help us all!:)

      • For late response,Vicki, a thousand apologies. As my grandmother used to tell a disbelieving pre-teen, as one grows older, their minds and attitudes gallop in the opposite direction……so often do I find myself impulsively reacting like your two-year old toddler to my frustration with myself!!!!!!

  • Kathy

    You are not alone. I, too, get tired of dragging this one into the confessional EVERY time! I forget to remember that my resentment, irritation, etc. is a sign that I am attached to my desire to have things work out just as I pictured it in my plan. (You would think that my teen-esque eye-rolling, foot-stomping, and the unpleasant sounds and tone emanating from my allegedly Christian mouth when I am interrupted would be a familiar signal to me that I am going down that path again, but…no.) The enemy doesn’t even have to break a sweat in order to get me to fall!

    A light that came to me once, (which I also neglect to remember because I’m so busy trying to get it all done on my timetable!) is this: an interruption may be God inviting me to lay down my life for Him, 15 minutes at a time. Rather than grumble at the people or challenges He places in my path, can I see the interruption as an opportunity to experience that “no greater love”? Sometimes I think regular once-and-for-all martyrdom might be easier than this having to die to self in little increments every day.

    Good thing we can pray for each other! 🙂

    God bless, thanks for all of your insights!

    • LizEst

      Someone once asked a saint (priest), whose name escapes me at the moment (perhaps it was John Vianney, the Curé of Ars), if it bothered him for others to interrupt him so much while he was at prayer. He responded with something like, “No, it is just going from God in prayer to God present in the person who interrupted the prayer. It is the same, no different.”

  • Karen

    Thanks to my priest, I’ve learned to see interruptions as “divine” interruptions. Changes my attitude real quick!

  • maggie norman

    Have just joined the CSD Book Club and have The Screwtape Letters on Kindle as of today. I’m playing catch up, but will read all the other comments/write-ups from weeks 1-present. Re: *Is your time your own?* I haven’t felt that way for a very long time! With so much to do around the farm, and keeping the animals in ship shape health. Earlier this morning I held the ladder steady for about half an hour while hubby was up painting the barn….. so I managed 3 decades of the rosary. Take that satan! Godbless all x

    • Vicki

      Maggie – Thanks for sharing! My husband would love your comment – he grew up on a dairy farm, and they knew very well that time wasn’t their own. I’m sometimes reminded of that fact when we go home to his mother’s and breakfast or dinner waits for a couple of hours past meal time because we’re waiting for people to come in from milking, or some unexpected set-back that holds them up:) (vs. my military family – When dinner was ready at our house, we’d better have been at the table five minutes ago or we didn’t eat!). Now I know where he learned to be so laid back about scheduling (and where I learned to be so uptight:))! Makes great sense!

  • idaloren

    This post. Can I say just say ‘guilty, guilty, guilty!’? The sad thing is I wasn’t as aware that I was ‘owning my time’, so to speak. I work better in routine, and I love making schedules, thinking that each moment, each second is precious and not to be wasted. Though this isn’t bad in itself, I realized with this post that I had the tendency to blame others (and to a certain extent, myself) when my schedule does not go well. I would glare at the family member who suddenly wakes up early in the morning interrupting my scheduled bath time. I would nurse hurt at a friend who cancels a meeting at the last minute. I would beat myself and mope for a long time when i wasn’t able to do something in my schedule. Now I realize that I have to change my attitude. I would still make schedules of course (I couldn’t help it), but now I will have a different perspective when interrupted. I know now that I must see this as an opportunity to grow in virtue. Charity before anything else, because in the first place, I am not the only person in this world! And then there’s humility… trusting in God, because if it is God that interrupts our plans (especially if it’s a big plan), we all know how His plan should overrule all our schedules. His plan would be so, so much better, and we will realize it made much more sense in the end. Thanks Vicki, for this post.

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