“You know, in fact, that any attempt to talk things over with X will shipwreck on the old, fatal flaw in X’s character. And you see, looking back, how all the plans you have ever made always have shipwrecked on that fatal flaw–on X’s incurable jealousy, or laziness, or touchiness, or muddle-headedness, or bossiness, or ill temper, or changeableness. Up to a certain age you have perhaps had the illusion that some external stroke of good fortune–an improvement in health, a rise of salary, the end of the war–would solve your difficulty. But you know better now. The war is over, and you realize that even if the other things happened, X would still be X, and you would still be up against the same old problem. Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you’d still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.” – The Trouble With X, C.S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis wrote a thought-provoking essay called “The Trouble with X,” in which he describes the struggles we all have with certain people who have a “fatal flaw” in their character that causes us difficulty and frustration. But by the end of the essay, however, Lewis turns the tables on you, with the reminder that, “you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character.” Ouch. The day that fully sinks in will be sobering and humbling. And convicting.
We are X in Lewis’ essay. This is not to say there are not specific issues which require our examination of others. Lewis is simply stating that we tend to take the exception and make it the rule. So we talk about, criticize, and get angry at the difficult people in our lives. But this essay points out what we know to be true intuitively: It may not seem a problem today, but reacting negatively to difficult people can quickly become our default position. We will wait for them to fix what needs to be fixed rather than looking within at what we need to fix.
“We must love ‘X’ more,” Lewis writes, “and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind.” But it is difficult to turn our gaze from other’s faults to look at our heart and our lives. It’s always easier to point to others, but this is only to miss the point of God’s grace working in us. “Of all the awkward people in your house or job,” Lewis says, “there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.”
Some people would push back by saying that C.S. Lewis hasn’t met my Uncle Joe or Mike the co-worker, or Amy the neighbor. In the essay Lewis says, “But why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you go to your wife (or husband, or father, or daughter, or boss, or landlady, or friend) and have it all out? People are usually reasonable. All you’ve got to do is to make them see things in the right light. Explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way.” And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, C.S. Lewis doesn’t know X. But we do. We know how utterly hopeless it is to assume that X will be reasonable. We know that because we have tried until we are blue in the face, only to realize that it is a complete waste of time. And besides if we attempt to have it out with X, there will be a scene, or X will simply look at us like we are aliens and say, I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about.” Even if they agree to work the problem out they will soon return to their old difficult self because a leopard cannot change its spots.
The essay also adds: “It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as ‘of course, I know I have my faults.'” It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about–like the advertisements for bad breath where the only person who doesn’t realize they have bad breath is you. The real trouble with X is the trouble we see every morning in the mirror. And the day to start working on this problem is today. Let us turn our attention to where it is needed most. “The matter is serious,” Lewis reminds us, “let us put ourselves in His hands at once—this very day, this hour.”
- Do you have a “fatal flaw?”
- Why is it more difficult to look inward at ourselves, than outward at others?
- What can we do to make us less difficult to others?
- Do we pray for ourselves as well as for the difficult people in our lives?
- Pray and ask God to give you the self-awareness to look upward and inward for anything that would be a difficulty in the lives of others.