The Generous Heart and Life of C.S. Lewis - page 3

 


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From the Summer 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Generous Heart and Life of C.S. Lewis

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

 
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  In A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken tells how while a student at Oxford, Lewis would eat dinner with him and his wife, Davy, engaging in rich conversation well into the night. Through Lewis’s mentoring influence and openness, both Sheldon and Davy eventually were pointed toward receiving Christ’s mercy and grace.6

Endlessly Generous

  Finally, Lewis both preached and practiced his deep conviction that he was to use his material wealth to serve the needs of others. He writes in Mere Christianity, “Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.’”7 Lewis understood this to mean that all of his life was to be surrendered to God including how he used the money and other resources that had been given to him. He also realized the dangers of materialism. He writes in The Screwtape Letters, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”8
  As Lewis’s books became popular, large royalties poured in. Rather than upgrade his lifestyle, Lewis decided to maintain his current standard of living and give the rest away. As he got paid for The Screwtape Letters, which were published in The Guardian, he instructed the newspaper to send the royalties to a Clergy Widows fund. He did the same with the BBC when they sent money for his radio broadcasts. This generosity got him into some trouble, however, when, after having given the money away, he learned that he owed taxes on it. One of Lewis’s weaknesses was math and numbers. One of the fortunate circumstances of Lewis’s life was that as a war veteran he was exempt from taking Oxford’s math entrance exam; some propose that he may not have passed the test. This should be encouraging to those who struggle with math to know that one of the world’s most brilliant men also didn’t care for numbers.
  Fortunately for Lewis, his good friend and lawyer Owen Barfield set up a charitable trust for him called the Agape Fund. From then on, two-thirds of Lewis’s royalties were paid into the trust and distributed anonymously to many people, including those in poverty, clergy widows, seminary students, churches, and many other ministries. Lewis went to great lengths to ensure that his name would not be tied to any of the gifts. He detested the idea of conspicuous living, writing, “This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.”9
  Lewis also took great joy in giving spontaneously and with fun. In a letter to an American, he wrote,

It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need . . . Another thing that annoys me is when people say “Why did you give that man money? He’ll probably go and drink it.” My reply is “But if I’d kept [it] I should probably have drunk it.”10

  This doesn’t mean that Lewis didn’t struggle with giving or worry about money. In fact, one of Lewis’s greatest fears was the idea of ending up in poverty. Following the writing of A Grief Observed, he became very worried about money. Hooper writes, Lewis “had spent so much over the last years that he now began keeping a minute account of his expenses.”11

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