Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Only three things we must do

Came across this quote while reading a delightful little book, Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis. The book is, as the title indicates, a collection of various letters Lewis wrote to children.

In one of those notes, he writes to a God-daughter this advice:

Oh - I'd nearly forgotten - I have one other piece of advice. Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we've got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don't like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one's school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing - but of course I don't know what you like. Perhaps you'll write and tell me one day.

At face value, this strikes me as an ingenious way of looking at one's daily activities - there are things we do out of obedience (to God, to our promises to others, etc); there are things we do out of necessity (like eating, breathing, etc.), and then there are things we do because we enjoy them. Each category has it's own pleasures and obviously they can overlap. I ought to love my kids, and very often I enjoy loving them. I need to eat and very often delight in the process (maybe too often!).

But the categories remind us that we do not always like the things we need or ought to do. I don't like to discipline/correct my children, but I ought to, for their own good. The opposite is also true, I am, in God's good grace, allowed to do some things for the pure enjoyment of them (so long as they do not violate God's will). My guess is that art and music and all manner of fun fall into this category.

Most importantly, the three categories appear to describe those things that are necessary for a well formed/lived life. Each category, in it's own way, contributes to a life well lived. This gets to the heart of Lewis' advice - if something doesn't fit one of these categories - toss it. As we might say, "Life's too short."

I wonder, what things do you do because you ought to (even if you don't like to do them)? What things do you like to do purely for the joy of it? What might you need to stop doing for the simple fact that you need not do it, you are under no obligation to do it, nor do you enjoy doing it? How might your life be different if you gave this activity up?

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