Joy Renewed

Toddler-RunningThis Saturday (February 1) we present a Grow Seminar entitled The Happiness Symposium.  Go to wkc.org/grow-seminars to register. Its one of my favourite things to witness. When a child meets an empty space and suddenly gets the urge to run. Not for any reason really. Children don’t really need reasons. Its just for the sheer joy of it. Just because they can. Just because running is fun. Its the pursuit of joy that pulls them into that open space.

Whenever I see a child running down a hallway as children are wont to do, or perhaps across an empty stretch of lawn, I feel I am witnessing something holy, something originally intended, something inherently God-like. Its a sacrament of joy, this basic, simple expression of human freedom. Perhaps, when a child abandons themselves to the emptiness in front of them, God’s own exuberant nature is on display.

I muse on this inherent childhood happiness -- how we all once ran, unrestrained -- and I wonder if time and aging must, of necessity, diminish our joy?  Does the process of growing older inevitably mean that joy itself must leak away?  Is this loss actually built into the way things are?  The second law of thermodynamics tells us that everything eventually runs down. Must our happiness also grind to a halt?

I know people who have leaked away all their joy.  The acids of resentment have worn their souls; they are angry and unforgiving.  Really, they are old. Its entirely possible to claim a Christian life and show none of its benefits. Just as age can stop us from running, so it’s possible that the wear and tear of life can rob us of the joy Jesus promised (John 15:11).

Lately I have entered a time of personal renewal by experiencing the character and nature of God.  By simply being with him, I am finding myself drawn back into joyous freedom.  I am excited to run, once again, into that empty space in front of me.

In one of my absolute favorite passages in all of literature, a chapter titled “The Ethics of Elfland” in GK Chesterton’s famous book Orthodoxy, there is a quote I often reflect on, and share. In that chapter Chesterton talks about how he came to faith by the wonder pictured in fairy tales, and by the sheer life he sees in children:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.  Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. [GK Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland”, Orthodoxy]

The resonances here are profound.  I would like to define true Christian faith as participation in the eternal youth of God.  And that means we can run again.  That means our joy is a never-depleting reality. Our father is younger than we are, and, according to the parable of the prodigal son, our father runs.  And so can we.

There are people I have met who inspire me with their faith, their perseverance, their sacrificial service. But perhaps the greatest evidence that someone has connected with the eternally-young God in a life-changing way is the way their joy hasn’t diminished through time.  Though they have known some heartache and disappointment, as we all do, they somehow manage to see life with a clear eye, a wonder, and a deep-down freshness of spirit. They have kept their youth.

I turn 55 this week. I haven’t run down an empty hall for a very long time. But I feel the pull toward holy joy as much as ever.  I hope you do too.

Bob Osborne

questions:

1. what does this text mean to you? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:28b-31, NLT] 2. do you know anyone older than yourself who models a joyousness in life? have you ever thought to ask them how they do it? 3. have you ever reflected on why your joy might leak away at times?  have you ever thought about the practices of joylessness?  or the practices of joyfulness? 4. if you have been unhappy for a long time now, how might your joy be renewed? have you talked to God about this?