It’s the classic awkward moment. You say to someone “Cheer up! You look like you just lost your best friend.” Come to find out, they did.
Author Mark Twain was familiar with suffering. In just a little over 30 years he experienced the loss of his nineteenth-month old son, Langdon; twenty-four year old daughter, Susy; and his wife, Olivia, who passed away at age fifty-eight.
After a year of being widowed Twain received an advertisement for a medicine called “The Elixir of Life.” It was all too much. He fired off a letter on November 20, 1905 that read in part,
“The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link.”1
C. S. Lewis was no stranger to criticism and to firing off responses to it. Following a series of talks on Christian doctrine published in The Listener in the 1940’s he was caustically and unfairly criticized in the same publication by a Mr. W. R. Childe. It was all too much. Lewis responds,
“I cannot blame Mr. Childe for misunderstanding me, because I am naturally no judge of my own lucidity; but I take it very hard when a total stranger whom I have never knowingly injured or offended, on the first discovery of a difference in theological opinion between us, should publicly accuse me of being a potential torturer, murderer or tyrant—for that is what Mr. Childe’s reference to faggots means if it means anything.”2
It’s important to be aware of our mood when we speak. Doesn’t hurt to realize the listener is in a mood as well.
“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” – Proverbs 25:20
- Shaun Usher, Letters of Note: an Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (San Francisco, Chronicle Books LLC, 2014), 196.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949, Vol. II (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 605-606.