Every dream or highly anticipated project has a honeymoon period, but why does the glow fade and do we have to stick with it afterward?
In C.S. Lewis’s brilliant book The Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape writes to his nephew, advising him on how to handle his patient who has just become a Christian (all references to The Enemy are to God since these are, after all, a pair of devils writing to one another).
“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.
“The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
“The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants—‘sons’ is the word He uses, with his inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals.
“Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which he sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own’. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger.
“If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.”
The Gleaming Star of Novelty
Starting something new is exciting, whether it’s as large as a new stage of life or as small as a new craft project. What’s a lot less exciting is plowing through a task all the way to the end.
Why does a honeymoon period go away, and should we have to keep going after we’ve lost interest? Most importantly, how do we stay the course after the glow fades?
Interestingly, the psychology of this dilemma is tidily summed up in economics. Raphaële Chappe wrote for New Economic Thinking, “For nineteenth century figures such as Bentham and Jevons, the concept of utility was associated with satisfaction or pleasure experienced.
“However, initially utility was defined as a property of an object — its usefulness and capacity to procure such pleasure. For Bentham, utility was ‘that property of any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness’. Subsequently utility came to be understood as a feature of persons rather than objects: ‘the sum of pleasure and pain prevented’”
At some point, our brains switch from pleasure procured to pain prevented.
Where does that shifting point occur? When does thinking about how enjoyable the project is or how invested we are in a vision gradually transform into evaluating how inconvenient this mess in front of us has become?
In the beginning, all the problems seem so easily overcome; the inconveniences are barely worth mentioning; everyone is more or less pleasant.
A few more issues start cropping up; the lights of devotion dim; the occupation gets boring, and people get snappish. The slog begins, if we even make it that far. Some bail ship the moment that they begin to sense this turning tide. Quit the job and find something with more ‘inspiration.’ Leave that project for later when you ‘feel like it.’ Dump the relationship and find someone new and fresh!
All too soon this can become a pattern in our lives as we start to chase novelty.
Sticking With the Course
The problems with not being steadfast in physical work, even when it becomes monotonous or unpleasant, are fairly obvious.
If construction workers quit whenever they became bored, we’d have a lot of building complexes with no roofs and houses with no piping. If delivery drivers stopped because they weren’t feeling inspired by the roadside vistas anymore, we’d have a lot of empty grocery stores and undelivered packages. If surgeons quit whenever they hit an annoying problem, we’d have a lot of…well, people in bad shape.
The issues that come from not being steadfast in our spiritual work are less immediately evident, and so failure to be dedicated to a church or a calling is more easily excused. However, the benefits of soldiering through are just as significant as with our more mundane projects.
David Wilkerson wrote, “On Sunday mornings we go to church, sit in the same seats, and sing the same praise and worship music. Even our prayers can sound the same.
We are tempted to wonder, ‘Am I really doing anything profitable for the kingdom of God? I’ve been doing the same thing over and over, but there is very little variety to it.’
“Growing in grace does not mean doing more or greater things for God.
“True growth comes in doing the same things again and again with heart assurance that we are doing everything for him. It’s like learning to write in the first grade. You begin with looping circles and lines, forming big letter. But after a while, the letters become smaller and closer together and eventually you learn to put words together and form sentences. Even though you have been doing the same repetitious things, the whole time something worthy was being accomplished.
“In your Christian walk, it takes much grace to keep going when you are tired, broken, downcast or afflicted. In fact, it takes more grace to stay steadfast in those times than it does when everything is new and fresh and exciting.”
This is what Paul exhorted the church in his letters when he said, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV).
Production of Steady Character
Staying the course when we see no results and receive no rewards is terribly difficult, but the Bible commands endurance for a reason, promising, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Steadfastness will have its reward, if only in the type of character it produces which does not erode or waver during times of trouble.
As Jane Eyre, in her titular book, said, “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?...
“Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations are all I have at this hour to stand; there I plant my foot.”
This willingness to follow principles even when everything in our flesh rebels against them is perhaps best marks the “laborious doing,” as C.S. Lewis called it, that produces endurance in faith and resistance to temptation.
In this chafing and dull labor, we find the forging of steady character.