The Three Enemies


According to C.S. Lewis, a scholar faces three enemies during a time of war. As I was reading through those tonight, I realized they are also the three enemies most of us face in the “war” of our day-to-day lives. I’ve selected a few quotes for your perusal. If you want to read the rest, check out his essay “Learning in War-Time” collected in The Weight of Glory.

The first enemy is excitement–the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defence is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

The second enemy is frustration–the feeling that we shall not have time to finish. If I say to you that no one has time to finish, that the longest human life leaves a man, in any branch of leaning, a beginner, I shall seem to you to be saying something quite academic and theoretical. You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether, of how many things, even in the middle of life, we have to say ‘No time for that,’ ‘Too late now,’ and ‘Not for me.’ But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands.

The third enemy is fear. War threatens us with death and pain. No man– and specially no Christian who remembers Gethsemane — need try to attain a stoic indifference about these things, but we can guard against the illusions of the imagination. We think of the streets of Warsaw and contrast the deaths there suffered with an abstraction called Life. But there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that — of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later. What does war to do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.

[This post originally appeared on Rebecca’s excellent blog, Little Boots Liturgies.]

Rebecca K. Reynolds is the editorial director of Oasis Family Media and Sky Turtle Press. She is the author of a text-faithful modern prose rendering of Edmund Spenser’s 1590’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene and of Courage, Dear Heart by Nav Press. Rebecca is a longtime member of the Rabbit Room, and she has spoken at Hutchmoot both in the US and the UK. She taught high school literature for seven years and has written lyrics for Ron Block of Alison Krauss, Union Station.


  1. Melissa

    Needing to hear this so much right now. Thanks for posting! I need to read this book this year!

  2. Loren Warnemuende

    So true! These are definitely enemies I fight, particularly distraction. Speaking of, I think I need to read this essay in whole and so distract myself from some other details I should be taking care of….

  3. Caleb Morris

    “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come. ”

    Such wisdom here! I always love Lewis’s way of getting rid of excuses. Thanks for this post.


  4. amy

    ah, i adore c.s.lewis. thank you for sharing this post with these quotes. yes, keeping my eyes out for excitement, frustration, and fear in my daily living is an encouraging reminder.

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