This summer has been filled with a lot of very mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’ve had a ton of fun: I’ve gone to Peru and Ecuador, come home and edited videos from when I was there, seen a lot of movies, hung out with a lot of friends, and been able to play cello at a wedding (that’s actually on Saturday). But on the other hand, and to most of the rest of the world, it’s been a painful three months or so: four high school students from my hometown were killed in a car accident in June, Penn State University has had to deal with the end of the scandal, multiple celebrities have passed away, twelve people were killed at a movie theater in Colorado, which also experienced a large wildfire, and one of my grandmothers passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years.
I don’t think it’s an accident that I received that last piece of news about my grandmother literally seconds after watching “Shadowlands” for the first time. I always liked to think to this as the “C.S. Lewis movie”, because, yes, it’s the story of C.S. Lewis and his relationship with Joy Gresham while she suffered with cancer. But “Shadowlands” is more than just a movie about C.S. Lewis—it’s a movie about suffering people wondering why God would let such things happen, a subject that Lewis wrote about often in books like “Mere Christianity”, “The Problem of Pain”, and other works.
Anthony Hopkins plays Lewis at a time in his life when he was pretty well known. By the time we meet him, he has already written one of his most famous books, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, and people from England and even the United States will come and listen to him speak publicly. One of those fans is Joy Gresham (Debra Winger), who writes to Lewis asking to meet him one day. She eventually does get to visit him, bringing her son Douglas (Joseph Mazzello) with her, and Lewis and Gresham begin what becomes a very strong friendship.
Both of them, however, have had to deal with suffering and tell each other about it. Joy is wife to an alcoholic husband who is apparently having an affair with another woman. Lewis, or “Jack” as he is known to his acquaintances, tells her about when his mother died when he was a child and how hard it was to come to terms with the fact that she was never coming back. Lewis was formerly an atheist before he came to know Christ, and before he thought about the existence of Heaven, all he could believe was that she was gone, and that was all there was to it.
Eventually, Joy divorces her husband, and she and Douglas move to London. And eventually, in order to keep her citizenship, she asks Jack to marry him. He agrees, even though he believes it is only a way for her to stay in London and not much more. But because of this, Jack doesn’t truly love Joy, and it starts to hurt their relationship. And things really start to take a turn for the worse when Joy becomes so weak she can hardly stand, and the doctors determine she has advanced cancer. Jack talks to a colleague about what to do, and what might happen to Douglas if she were to pass away. But his colleague, Harry (Michael Denison), doesn’t realize Jack and Joy are actually married.
HARRY: But she's not...
JACK: Not my wife. No, how could she be? I'd have to love her, wouldn't I? (He starts to cry) She'd have to be more important to me than anything in the World. I'd have to be suffering the torments of the damned. The thought of losing her...
HARRY: I'm so sorry, Jack. I didn't know.
JACK: Neither did I, Harry.
And while she is in the hospital, Jack goes to Joy for forgiveness and to renew their wedding vows there. And when Joy gets out, she and Jack have a relationship that he only knew from books—even his own. And they do spend a good amount of time together in love until the cancer returns suddenly and Joy does eventually pass away. Jack and his new son Douglas mourn together, but because of this, they also seem to grow together. And at the end of the film, as we see the two of them walk together in a meadow, the words of C.S. Lewis (though I’m still not sure if they come from one of his books) close us out:
JACK: Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.
I remember being in Quito, Ecuador on the first Sunday in June, going on Facebook, and finding out that there had been a car accident in my hometown that killed four students—two of whom were supposed to graduate high school the next morning. That was devastating for me—not only because I was away from home when it happened, but also because I knew two of those students: one of them I led through freshman orientation four years before, and I graduated two years before with the sister of the girl who died. And coming home, I felt like I should let that girl’s sister know that I was praying for her, her family, and the other families affected. But it was hard to figure out words to say.
The first verse that I thought of was a key verse from Romans that many people probably memorize as a life verse: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Maybe it’s one of those verses that we read so many times that we forget what it actually means. But the Apostle Paul writes there that when we suffer, we will be okay if we put our trust in the Lord. As “Shadowlands” tells us, “The pain now is part of the happiness then”. If we rely on God to deliver us from our pain, we will be rewarded for our faith when we see our Deliverer face-to-face.
That is the kind of faith that I have been challenging myself to have in the last couple weeks as my family deals with the loss of my grandmother, and I pray that whatever you may be struggling with today, that you would have the faith to trust God in current pain so that you can experience eternal joy later.