“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”– C. S. Lewis
The Interrupted Life

What is “real life”?

I’ve heard this phrase with increasing frequency, and I’ve used it myself on occasion. Sometimes we mean offline vs online, or routine vs unexpected. Sometimes it’s paid work vs unpaid work, like my “real” job vs a hobby or game. Sometimes we even use this to refer to our Monday to Friday life vs our weekend life or our spiritual life.

This is an artificial and harmful distinction. As C. S. Lewis points out in a letter to a friend, “real life” is happening all around us, all the time, whether we want it to or not. Whether we’re at work or at home, creating or consuming, scrolling social media or skydiving, our lives are happening, our story is being written, and we are making active decisions all the time about what that life means for us and others.

This has been a very hard month for me, for several reasons, and I’m struggling to get work done. There have been many interruptions, many painful distractions. This week I found myself longing to get back to “real life.”

Then I stopped and thought about what that meant. Actually, amidst the pain of tragic circumstances, of strained relationships and disappointment, this is life. I can rail against unwanted circumstances, I can try to use them as an excuse for hurtful behaviour or selfish choices, but I cannot deny that I am defining my real life right now. These events will shape me and my work, and my response to them will shape others. Do I look on them as inconvenient interruptions? Or do I acknowledge them as essential elements of the narrative of my life?

Jesus told a story once about a man hurt on the side of the road. Those who passed by probably weren’t malicious, probably never thought they were doing anything wrong, probably didn’t even remember the man on the side of the road. They were busy with “real life”—what they thought was real. But the one who stopped and showed mercy to the one in need realized his life was defined by the seemingly inconsequential choices around him.

There are no meaningless choices. Even what I eat for breakfast has an impact on the people who worked for that cereal company or that bakery. All is real. All is potentially sacred. There is no choice that doesn’t affect both you and someone else, whether positively or negatively. There is no choice divorced from “real life.” 

Let’s treat life, every moment, as meaningful, as real, as part of the defining narrative of our lives, whether long or short.

Let’s live in the interruptions, instead of around them.