The Dancing Puritan

Monday, February 8, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 8: Friendship

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here

There is an ending for everything under the sun. People come and go; jobs change; events transition and children get married. Things, once so seemingly permanent on our calendar and in our traditions, transition to something else. And then there is a final transition when life is swallowed up by death and then death gives way to life eternal.

Everything changes. One moment we are holding the hand of a loved one and the next they are gone.  They move away to that far-away land. They are not coming back.

One day we will have a last friend.

For C.S. (Jack) Lewis that last friend was a lady from New York, Mrs. Joy Davidman Gresham. They first became acquainted when she wrote to him. Lewis was accustomed to getting letters from American fans. The letters from Joy were distinct and captured his attention.

Joy Davidman was born a Jew, declared herself an atheist at the age of 8, and later became a member of the Communist Party. She was a teacher and a writer of poetry, novels, and scripts. She married a Communist, William Gresham, in 1942.

Joy discovered The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce by Lewis. The struggles of her husband and their marriage led Joy to a sense of helplessness and humility. She was converted and became a Christian. Though she and her husband both professed Christ, their marriage continued to fail and they eventually divorced.

She travelled to England for a brief visit in the early 1950s and Lewis invited her to Oxford.

She was fascinating to C.S. Lewis. He wrote: "Her mind was... quick and muscular as a leopard. Passion, tenderness and pain were all equally unable to disarm it."

In 1953 Joy moved to England with her two sons. They visited Jack and his brother Warnie Lewis in their home for four days in the winter of 1953. Lewis wrote to a friend: "Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation?"

Joy continued writing and in 1955 her book, Smoke on the Mountain, based on the Ten Commandments, was published. Lewis wrote the foreword.

She moved to Oxford in the summer of 1955 and regularly visited with Lewis. Their friendship grew through numerous challenges.

In 1956 Joy's permit to live in Great Britain was not renewed.

She married C.S. in April of 1956. Lewis called the marriage "a pure matter of friendship and expediency." They did not live together and their marriage was an act of friendship, that Joy might remain in England. Lewis saw the marriage as a civil marriage distinct from a marriage in the "Christian sense." The distinction between civil marriage and church endorsed Christian marriage was a position that Lewis held prior to meeting Joy.

Joy suffered from hip problems that became so severe that she had to be hospitalized. She was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Lewis remarked, soon after he heard the news of her cancer: "No one can mark the exact moment in which friendship becomes love."

Humphrey Carpenter wrote:

  ...The days of talking about the marriage as a mere expediency were over, and Lewis and Joy determined that they must be married in the eyes of the Church. Warnie too had been won over. 'Never have I loved her more than since she was struck down,' he wrote in November 1956, shortly after the cancer had been diagnosed. 'Her pluck and cheerfulness are beyond praise...God grant that she may recover.'

C.S. and Joy were married, in the Christian sense, at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1957. Her death was considered imminent, but prayers were offered for her healing. She recovered. By the summer of 1958 her cancer was in full remission and she walked rather freely, though with a limp. Even the doctors, considered her recovery a miracle.

Lewis discovered romantic love. He remarked to one of his friends, "Do you know, I am experiencing what I thought would never be mine. I never thought that I would have in my sixties the happiness that passed me by in my twenties."

With Joy now in the home of C.S. and his brother Warnie, she brought a woman's touch to their world. Warnie wrote: "What Jack's marriage meant to me was that our home was enriched and enlivened by the presence of a witty, broad-minded, well read, tolerant Christian whom I had rarely heard equalled as a conversationalist whose company was a never ending source of enjoyment."

The marriage had a profound impact on C.S. Lewis.  He was different in the best sense of the word.

By October 1959 the cancer returned. Her pain increased and yet she continued to persevere.

In May, Jack. and Joy were on a dinner date. He recalled, "how much happiness, even how much gaiety, we sometimes had together after all hope was gone."

On July 12th, 1960 Joy and Jack were playing Scrabble. Lewis wrote of that night: "How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night!"

By midnight on July 13th, after a day of horrific pain, Joy died.

Lewis struggled greatly in the days following Joy's death but eventually the grief began to subside. His own health declined. In 1963 he had a heart attack but recovered. He said: "I can't help feeling it was rather a pity I did survive. I mean, having glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must some day be gone through again, and perhaps less pleasantly."

On Friday afternoon, November 22nd, 1963 C.S. Lewis died. His brother Warnie, his best friend for all of his life, was at home with him.

His death resulted in the death of the Inklings as well.* As one friend said, "He was the link that bound us all together."

Joy changed everything for C.S. Lewis.  She was his last friend. She was the friend that gave him what he had missed for so long. She gave him the friendship of a wife. She put a spring in his step and was a source of joy to his heart. His last friend became his best friend.


C.S. and Joy's friendship began with their correspondence with one another.  They were both writers and they both were Christians. Joy had a robust personality, a brilliant mind, and she was an excellent conversationalist. C.S. and Joy enjoyed talking, reading, playing games, and found happiness in one another. Joy made Lewis a better man as she encouraged him in his work. Lyle W. Dorsett writes: "Joy Davidman pushed him to take up non-fiction once more [he had stopped writing non-fiction] and as a result she helped him produce Reflections on the Psalms (1958) and she enthusiastically talked him out of a writer's block so he could finally go forward with his long-time coming Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer." Dorsett continues: "In the final analysis, then, those of us who thank God for the way C.S. Lewis has been our teacher through his books, must also be grateful for Joy Davidman Lewis. Without her the Lewis collection would be smaller and poorer." (Dorsett quotes: Here).  

How can you encourage your spouse today? Are there ways that you can push your husband forward in his work? How would reading to and with your wife strengthen your relationship with her in positive ways? Every person faces challenges in their work, relationships, and they sometimes feel overwhelmed? Is your home "enriched and livened" by your investment of prayer, energy, creativity, and laughter? Ask God for help and pour your life into your beloved companion.

Some of the information about C.S. Lewis in this column is adapted from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, pages 233-252.

*The Inklings were a group of literary friends that met regularly in Oxford to discuss literature and to express friendship.

This post was adapted from a 2013 column published at "The Dancing Puritan."