A few years ago, John Piper shared Clyde Kilby’s resolutions for mental health. Kilby was a professor at Wheaton College and a friend and biographer of C.S. Lewis. Kilby’s resolutions are unquestionably dripping with Lewis’s influence.
As I’ve reflected on this list, I’ve discovered a couple of common themes. Firstly, Kilby urges serious contemplation that avoids diving too far inwards. Kilby wants us to turn off the radio and think. The danger here is that we turn our contemplative life into an endless mirror checking. Self-inspection is an important part of our intellectual life, but too often it can become an all consuming project driven by the fear of fellow man’s judgment. Rather, we should meditate on God and what He has done and is doing. We should give ourselves considering the realities around us, especially the truth that it’s not all about us. Looking up is better than looking in.
Second, Kilby’s wisdom urges us to take it outside. As I write, it is June 5, the dawn of the summer season here in Kentucky. I work full time at a desk and often go home to open my laptop, phone, or television. Kilby believes that part of mental health involves stepping out of a walled environment and into a green and blue sanctuary that sings the glory of the Creator. For many of us, this will not come automatically. But if Kilby is right (and I believe he is), it will be the worth the effort. The vision of trees and clouds and hills and beaches and mountains will balm the soul.
So I want to commend this list to you, with a seasonal exhortation: Take advantage of the summer sunshine and the summer holiday. Don’t let it pass you by mindlessly.
1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.