No man can live without joy and that is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”
“Like the poets who have learned to sit still and sense the gratuitous unfolding of gift around them, I will wait on the Lord who, alone, is Joy”
Those were the final words of my last diary entry.
So much easier said than done.
Life barrels on relentlessly and I often feel the jarring consequences of being stuck inside the barrel. Of course, even when the barrel of life stops and I’m given the opportunity to be still, I feel the itch to be up and doing. I’m an accomplishment addict living in a world full to the brim with opportunities to keep my addiction strong. Pushers and peddlers at my shoulder, on the television, whispering from the magical world of the web, and haunting the church pew.
Perhaps the Psalmist felt similar urges and so he wrote these self-reminders: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret” (Psalm 37:7) and “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). A friend of mine repeats Psalm 46:10 to herself this way: “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be.”
Jim Eliot, that famous martyr of the Gospel, once wrote, “I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds.” Well, guess what? I don’t need literal noise, hurry, and crowds. I have plenty of all three swirling around between my ears.
Naomi’s advice to Ruth regarding her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, echoes God’s advice for me while I wait on Christ who is my kinsman-redeemer: “Sit still until you learn how the matter will turn out because your kinsman-redeemer will not be idle until he performs his job” (Ruth 3:18).
I fret. He performs.
Maybe it’s time to stand still at the shore of my personal Red Sea and watch the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:13-14). Maybe it’s time to let Jesus rebuke my internal storms, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). Maybe it’s time to sit at the feet of The Great Poet, himself, that lavish assailant of my humdrum spirituality, The Holy Spirit, and absorb the overflow of his joy (Galatians 5:22-24). Surely the closer my proximity to him, the more his joy will splash onto me.
Maybe it’s time to lay my burdens down at the feet of Jesus, to be content with what I have for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Come Holy Spirit, teach me to sit.
Teach me to be still and know that you are God. To be still and know. To be still. To be. Teach me to be still and sense the gratuitous unfolding of You.
[Painting by Dr. Lydia Kozenitzky]
The truth is that this first week dedicated to finding joy was characterized, ironically, by a remarkable lack of it. I was impatient, restless, and progressively drained. When I noticed joy was gone, I grew more impatient, restless, and drained. Even I can see the trend.
Then I noticed how much of my emotional state depends on my circumstances. I noticed, for example, how much of my day is filled with activity that I’d rather not do and which I blamed for my restless heart: cleaning dishes, folding laundry, grading papers, etc. And then there was the realization that my spiritual state depends too much on the relational state of my children. When they are in harmony, I’m happy. When they bicker, I’m short-tempered. All in all, the skittish stag named Joy spent most of the week in the tall timber.
So I begin this hunt by admitting that I’m afraid of failing since it appears that I’m failing right out of the starting gate. I sit in my frustration and restlessness. I sit in my anger. I wonder how a broken man like myself is going to find joy.
Then I remember Elizabeth Eliot who, when faced with deep fears, was famous for simplifying everything down to one command: do the next thing. What is the first thing to do?
Stop trying to drum up a feeling.
Look up the word.
So I unearthed my Oxford English Dictionary and read: “Joy is a vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.”
The definition links joy with satisfaction or well-being. Perhaps the word “contentment” has an important, but often neglected, roll to play when it comes to joy.
I have been remarkably discontent this week.
Perhaps there is a link between my lack of joy and my lack of contentment.
I spend so much effort trying to “be joyful” and when I fail, or circumstances around me seem to impede my joy, I get deeply frustrated. Milk gets spilled. A tire goes flat. Everything unravels and that elusive stag slips further and further into the woods.
Maybe a life of contentment, regardless of circumstances, is the way to find joy.
I want joy. I want it badly, but it never seems to stick.
What if I can only have joy as a byproduct of having contentment? Can I pursue contentment this week? If so, will joy return?
Those who are thankful are often the most content people I know. If I imitate them this week, giving thanks “in all circumstances” (I Thess. 5:18), then perhaps I will once again wake up to see that elusive stag standing in my yard. I will be still. I will not look him in the eye lest I spook him. I will go on being thankful in that moment.
I want to be like the poets, learning to sit still and sense the gratuitous unfolding of gift around me. That is waiting on the Lord who, alone, is Joy.
For many years, my parents have started each year by naming it after a theme: one was called, “The Year Of The Little Bird.” Another was themed, “The Year Of Pilgrimage.” The theme served as a kind of glue to cohere the seeming chaos of life. It gave them a focus, something for which to keep their eyes open. They read books and poetry on the topic. They may buy tokens to remind each other of the topic. Friends, knowing what they named the year, would send them quotes and just about anything that related to the year’s theme. I’ve admired this choice of giving each year a focus and I’ve wanted to emulate it for some time, so I’ve decided to name 2015, “The Year Of The White Stag.”
The most elusive of all mythical creatures is the white stag. It is a symbol of purity and hope across cultural barriers. The Celtic people believed the white stag was a messenger from the otherworld and Arthurian legend suggests that the hunt for the white stag symbolized mankind’s greatest spiritual quest. So it seems appropriate to choose the white stag as a symbol for a year long quest for joy.
What will that quest look like? You can expect a weekly diary entry that records my findings during the previous week. Do not always expect a linear argument or simple tips to finding joy. Like the white stag, Joy will not be easily grasped. The hunt will lead us through dale and over precarious mountains. It may elude us for the majority of the year, but it is my hope that by January 1st of 2015, we will at least be closer to our aim.
You are welcome to join me in this effort by subscribing to the weekly blog, if you haven’t done so already, but I covet your help as well. Any clues you have regarding Joy? Got a good quote on the topic? Send it my way. More importantly, I consider this quest of deep spiritual importance and any success we have will come by way of prayer. Please pray for me.
Augustine once wrote, “A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot.” I take that to mean that a Christian should be a living testimony to Joy Himself.
We were made to be a beacon in the night, a bright fire that will draw the watching world like moths to the flame.
What does that mean?
What does that look like?
How can we be an Alleluia from head to foot even in our sorrow and brokenness?
If Augustine is correct, then it could be argued that the hunt for joy is the Christian’s ultimate spiritual quest.
Let the hunt of a lifetime begin!
Eeyore’s “woe is me” attitude is cute only on television. In real life, he’s hard to live with. In real life, his morose brooding is more contagious than Influenza and a hundred times more dangerous.
Don’t be a moper.
Don’t be a fake, either.
Follow God into your dark days and listen for what he has to say to you. Then, start singing that message to the world and let your face shine in the darkness…not with a fake “grin and bear it” attitude, but with the joy of The Lord which is your strength.
This resolution, like all others that are hard, will require the Holy Spirit: I hereby resolve to live authentically, purposefully, and humbly…joyful.
The Eeyore in me is dead. Anyone want to join me?