Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.
When I first read this question, the first thing that came to mind was C.S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. I read this book many years ago, and I have re-read it and thought of it often, because I believe I understand what Lewis speaks of when he describes the life-long pursuit of Joy that ultimately led to his conversion to Christianity (or his reconversion to the faith of his youth). I highly recommend the book. For example, Lewis notes that Joy “is sharply distinguished between Happiness and Pleasure,” and that while happiness and pleasure are often under our control, true Joy is not. This has proven to be true in my experience.
For example, on the night when it became (dramatically and unmistakably) clear that my first marriage was over, I was a mess, alone, confused, frantically trying to sort out what was happening to me, knowing that what lay ahead for me was going to be among the most difficult seasons of my life. And yet, in the midst of that pain and embarrassment and shame, for one very brief instant, I suddenly sensed (for lack of a better term) that I was ultimately going to be okay, and I laughed briefly, even as my eyes were wet with tears. It was, in the middle of the worst night of my life thus far, a moment of pure, unambiguous, and unexpected Joy. It was not happiness–not by a long shot, and there was no pleasure in it. It was Joy. The sensation lasted a second, maybe even less, and then it was gone. But that one instant gave me hope that sustained me through the difficult months that followed and kept me from falling into despair.
Some years ago a letter, hand-written by Lewis himself, was found in a used copy of Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. It was addressed to “Mrs. Ellis,” and it was written several years before the publication of Surprised by Joy. In the letter Lewis tells Mrs. Ellis that things are going well with him, but only in the sense of security, not Joy. “Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony,” he wrote.
The experience of Joy I had that night as my marriage was coming apart was not the first for me, nor has it been the last. Joy comes when it will, and always catches me by surprise. I went on a short walk with my wife (yes, I remarried) in the late afternoon yesterday, and there was something in the angle or color or quality of the sunlight, right here in Kansas on a winter day, that for an instant reminded me of being on the rooftop of our team house in Cap Haïtien, Haiti, at the end of a day of construction work on a mission trip–it was a flash of Joy.
I don’t mean to imply that Joy is only a matter of sudden memories. For twenty years I led the worship band at my church. As a worship leader I juggled a lot of things in each service–managing the order of service, playing whatever instrument I happened to be playing at the time, often singing, as well, while thinking about what came next, such as the prayer I would lead, or the things I needed to say to introduce the next part of the service–you get the idea. Worship leader Paul Baloche often encourages worship leaders to make time for personal worship during the week, because it can be so hard to genuinely be engaged in worship when you are the one leading the congregation, and I took this to heart. But there were moments during some worship services when a lyric, a chord, a particular drum beat, the look on the face of a worshiper in the pews, or something completely random would quite suddenly bring a tear to my eye or a sudden rush of excitement and fill me with an overwhelming sense of connectedness, not only with God, but with my bandmates, my fellow staff members, my fellow congregants. Pure Joy, in the blink of an eye.
So what brings me Joy in life? The truth is that I never know where the next moment of Joy will come from, or how it will happen, and though I have tried to recreate the right conditions, or somehow experience a particular Joy again, it never works. It’s new and unexpected every time. It can be literally anything, at any time, no matter what is going on. I believe these moments of Joy to be gifts from the hand of a loving God, and every time I receive those gifts I cannot help but respond with gratitude. (Cue: “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone” by Andrew Peterson.)