In your lifetime, you may have come across a few people who claim the need to lose themselves in order to find themselves. The escapist methods they employ might range from healthy meditation all the way to substance abuse.
Although these people undertake dissimilar methods from that seen in the Christian life, their intention is surprisingly near to it, according to Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis.
C.S. Lewis’ definition of the Christian life
Lewis states, “The Christian life is simply a process of having your natural self changed into a Christ self.” By this he means, in order to find yourself you must lose yourself entirely in Christ.
Lewis’ definition reiterates the words of St. Paul from Ephesians, “Put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life… and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (RSV Ephesians 4:22-24)
Lewis explains the process of the Christian life in depth in a BBC Radio broadcast that he gave in March of 1944. The main points of the broadcast are as follows:
- Change from the old to the new self occurs very deep inside the person.
- This change takes time.
- Through the transformation you become the person who you are truly meant to be.
Personalism and the change from your old self to your new self
As stated above, the transformation from the old self to the new self takes place within the inmost depths of a person. Lewis explains that one must alter their most private wishes and points of view in order to undergo this process.
Philosophers such as Gabriel Marcel, Karol Wojtyla, and Norris Clarke have written extensively on a branch of philosophy called personalism. This philosophy emphasizes that each person has a fundamental deep interiority and thus supports Lewis’ claim that transformation must occur deep within a person.
This change is necessary, because unless we change from our old selves to our new selves, then we do not achieve much good for ourselves or for anyone around us. Lewis says that if we continue with our old selves we will be like a soldier going into battle with a dirty rifle: not much help to ourselves or to our nation.
It takes time to lose yourself
Going from your old self to your new self will not happen instantaneously, but is a lengthy journey. For most people, this transformation will begin in this lifetime but be completed after their earthly life is over (i.e., in Purgatory).
However, Lewis does point out that some, namely saints, cross beyond the threshold of their new selves. In describing such people Lewis says,
“Their very faces and voices are different. When you meet them, you know you are up against something that begins where you leave off. Something stronger, quieter, happier, more alive than ordinary humanity.”
In Lewis’ day, people were trying to figure out the next step of evolution after man; Lewis points out that these people are not wrong in supposing man will evolve. However, he says they miss the mark, because they do not understand that man will evolve from being “mere creatures to sons of God.”
When we become our new selves, do we lose our unique personalities?
Now, one might wonder since the next step is for us all to lose ourselves in Christ, does it follow that we all simply lose our individual personalities? Here Lewis gives as an anecdote: table salt.
If one did not know the nature of salt, one would think that something with such a strong flavor would simply overpower the flavor of any dish. However, salt does not overpower the flavor of individual foods, but enhances their true taste.
Here, Lewis warns that if we go on bothering about keeping our unique personalities when we lose ourselves in Christ, then we will not be able to lose ourselves in Christ at all. The key is to focus on Christ—then everything else will follow.
“When you’ve completely given up yourself to his personality you will then for the first time in your life be developing into a real person.” C.S. Lewis