I used to think it was just me.
Everyone else fit in. Everyone else had a place. I was the oddball, hanging around on the fringes like a wannabe who’s never exactly welcome.
Time, experience, and true friends willing to be vulnerable have taught me otherwise. I’ve come to believe that everyone feels like an imposter. I still remember the cool cheerleader, a senior, who deigned to befriend my little freshman self. She said something that transformed my life. Recalling months earlier before we had ever hardly spoken beyond what was strictly necessary (she’d totally made fun of my wild-eyed look when I first got contacts), she laughed at how close we’d become. She said, “Remember when you used to be stuck up?”
I was the geeky shy kid! She was the one who had it all together! That eight-word question changed my life, as it dawned on me that most every person feels like an outsider. Even the ones you think have it all together. Everybody is tempted with loneliness.
After two very similar conversations recently, this has hit me extra hard lately. Maybe I’m totally off; maybe I really am the only one who goes through this. I really don’t think so, though. In order to expose the diabolical schemes behind this temptation so common to man, I’ve borrowed one of the blank pages at the back of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Let’s see what might be behind the pangs of loneliness that threaten to rip us away from friends who truly love us – even if we don’t see it.
(In case you aren’t familiar with them, The Screwtape Letters are an imaginary exchange between two devils, Screwtape and Wormwood. It’s amazing. And weird. You’ll see what I mean.)
My Dear Wormwood,
I received your pathetically alarmist letter today. I’m answering you immediately to soothe your fears, even if such is against my nature. You say your prospect has stumbled upon that Scripture that alerts him to your plans. “We are not ignorant of his devices,” something like that.
I had to laugh when I imagined your horror at “discovery.” Now, I do understand the danger you fear. I understand how much more difficult our work would be if humans ever really did understand our plans. Such a thing is so unlikely, however. Humans – even those who belong to the winning team – generally prefer to think of us as imaginary beings who playfully adorn Halloween advertisements but aren’t literal adversaries to their everyday affairs.
Even the most devout Christian struggles fighting against an enemy he can’t see. When he finds that the more he struggles, the more havoc we wreak, it’s easy to keep him hiding his head in the sand. Just so we never drive him to his knees. But that’s another subject for another letter.
Today, I wanted to alert you to one of our most powerful tools to keep those miserable humans from experiencing the victory they’ve been awarded through…well, you know. I personally use this strategy on a daily basis with my host of prospects; it rarely ever fails. The few times it has failed was due to the subject of the letter you sent me, so I guess I can see your point.
Let me tell you the story of a woman I once hounded, Matilda. Matilda was a kind, sensitive soul. One of those do-gooders; surely you have a few, even if they’ve gotten a bit scarcer thanks to our increasing effectiveness.
Anyway, Matilda was always writing a note or encouraging someone with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. She always noticed when someone was struggling, and let me tell you, she was a constant source of irritation.
After receiving a kick in the rear from my own uncle for my ineptness, I finally realized it was my job to do something. I realized her church was the problem. Not only was she a powerful encourager, but every time she darkened the doors, she came away more powerful. Everything we did was jeopardized by this one woman’s prayers and cookies.
Thanks to my ingenuity, I decided to use her church as the very weapon to get her to become our tool rather than our opponent. First, I whispered in her ear as she’d pass people in church. Maud didn’t smile. I think she’s upset with you about something. You know Maud.
I could always tell I was getting to her when her left eyebrow would raise and her throat would constrict. I’d try to suppress my chuckle as I’d continue, It’s because you didn’t help in the nursery last month. She doesn’t care enough to think you were sick. In fact, I bet she didn’t even send you a card. And you sent her two cards in the past six months!
(Now, back in those days, sending cards was something women did a lot. Lately, they text. But you know this.)
Then she’d pass Clara. Why, did you see that! Clara didn’t even look at you! Hmm. I think someone’s been talking about you. Oh, there’s Hattie. Yes, she’s smiling, but it sure looks fake. I think she’s guilty about something. Well, fine. You can fake smile, too, you know.
It was such fun, even if it hadn’t been so potent, to watch this chronic do-gooder morph into a suspicious critic. I’ve used this loneliness dart so many times I can’t even begin to tell you. Lately it’s all the rage; everybody’s using it. People have been leaving their churches in droves. I’m frankly surprised you didn’t know about it. Get with it, nephew. Really.
What’s so very wonderful about it is that once you hammer these thoughts regularly for several months and totally convince your prospect that no one cares, you can effectively sever them from the body that they need so desperately – and that needs them so desperately. Oh the pain! Oh the agony! Tears will flow, and all in secret. Depression will set in. Best of all, it’s as contagious as all get out.
As I told you before in the letters I wrote in the exceptional original volume, “Suspicion often creates what it suspects.” Have fun with it. Create loneliness in your victim. Make each of them believe they don’t fit in. I don’t care how old or young they are. Make them believe they have no friends and that no one loves them.
Keep their eyes on people around them, because if they can only lose sight of the One who loves them with perfect love, we can pretend we’ve won.
If only it could ever be true.
Your diabolical uncle,