The Generous Heart and Life of C.S. Lewis

 

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

.S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe begins,

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country . . . He had no wife and he lived in a very large house with a housekeeper . . . and three servants.1

  What Lewis doesn’t tell the reader is that in real life he was the generous old (middle-aged) professor who opened up his home near Oxford to provide shelter and care for children who were evacuated from London and other cities during the German air raids of World War II. This act of hospitality was in part the inspiration behind the Chronicles of Narnia and is just one example of the kindness that permeated the life of C.S. Lewis, a generous follower of Christ.

The Reluctant Convert

  In Lewis’s earlier years, generous probably wouldn’t have been the word used to describe the erudite young scholar. Some who knew him in those days might have preferred the word smug. His pride came to him naturally out of a brilliant mind, hardened on the battlefields of World War I and acclaimed through academic success. In the 1920s he finished his student years at Oxford with a rare “triple first,” graduating with first-class honors in three different disciplines, philosophy, classics, and English language and literature. He won the Chancellor’s Prize for an English essay. And he began lecturing at Oxford and published his first book, Dymer, a poem in rhyme royal, all by the age of twenty-eight. Lewis was eloquent, quick on his feet, and ready to ride roughshod over others in debate with his sarcasm and satirical wit.
His prideful ways, however, were tempered as he began his search for truth and meaning in life.  This quest, chronicled in his book Surprised by Joy, eventually came to a crisis point: “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”2 Lewis soon would wholeheartedly commit his life to serving Jesus Christ as Lord. One of the first fruits of his conversion was the generosity that began to exude from Lewis. As he studied the Scriptures, he came to the conclusion that it truly is “better to give than to receive.”

The Gift of Hospitality

  Hospitality, a natural trait of Lewis’s generosity, expanded as his faith grew. Lewis had been supported by his father, Albert Lewis, through all of his student years at Oxford. Upon employment as an Oxford don or professor, Lewis was finally able to support himself, although the salary of a don was meager. On a modest income, he was also providing food and shelter for Mrs. “Jane” Moore, the mother of his deceased war buddy, Paddie Moore. Mrs. Moore’s daughter, Maureen, also lived with them. Lewis had made a pact with Paddie that if either of them were killed in the war, the survivor would take care of the other’s family. True to his word, Lewis ended up caring for Mrs. Moore for the rest of her life. With little money to spare, Lewis lived a simple life.

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