Yesterday morning I sat doing some work while my two-year-old nephew played nearby. He had his favorite stacking cups all laid out on the chair next to me and would lift each one up in turn, loudly proclaiming its number and color, then run with it over to the next room, where he was carefully constructing a tower piece by piece. It was an entirely ordinary childhood moment, but I was suddenly struck in it by his unbridled, unconcerned, overwhelming joy.
We use the language of “a childlike faith” often, and that’s a good thing, but I guess I had never before really thought about a childlike joy. Of course children are often happy, care-free (in the literal sense of that word), and not bogged down by the everyday realities and worries of adult life. It’s easy for them, we think, and to some extent that’s true. But anyone who has witnessed a child’s absolute meltdown in a moment of sadness or dissatisfaction or anger over the seemingly slightest event can testify to the fact that children are not always happy and care-free. In fact, sometimes it seems that whatever their ‘care’ is at any given moment, they feel it deeper than any adult ever could, and therefore they must make sure that everyone around them cares as well. Their despair is all consuming; or at least at that instant. And that’s what struck me: whatever emotion a child is feeling at any given moment, they feel it completely. And so their joy is beautiful to watch in its simple, unconfined, momentary fullness. They couldn’t tell you why, couldn’t show a balance where the happy factors outweigh the sad and so have brought them to this moment, there is just something that they love and they are joyful.
As I watched and reflected, I realized how far I felt from that joy. Not that my life is necessarily overwhelmed by sorrow right now, or even that I am walking through a difficult spiritual time when fighting for joy becomes a reality (though I have experienced that, and most likely will again). In fact, I probably would consider myself a fairly joyful person. In recent joyful moments, though, there has always been that hovering presence of concern. Care. Worry…to put it in a more straightforward term, and one within which it becomes harder to skirt around scripture’s clear commands. Recently, my prayers have felt like coming before the Lord as the old, worldly-wise steward with all the notes of the state of the estate, glasses low on the nose and a deep sigh, as if trying to explain a list of concerns to a young, unruly heir. “I know you’re a prince, but you really must consider this financial situation, we have to look at that, and have you noticed these current circumstances? You can’t expect me to not worry about that…” and as I’m mumbling along, the Lord is simply saying, stop. Just stop, and rejoice. Rejoice in the true source of joy, the only one that can so overwhelm the realities of the cares of our lives, some of which are completely necessary and legitimate, but only if we hold them in proper perspective and rejoice through them. Rejoice in Him.
The Bible is not subtle about the fact that our joy is not placed in our circumstances. It is placed in an unchanging God. And though I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, I needed a physical and literal reminder right now, found in a child. I want to be joyful, both in my life and before the Lord in prayer. And one of the grown-up expressions of joy is, I feel, gratefulness. And so I want to be grateful, truly grateful, both in my life and before the Lord in prayer. Not only want, but I need to be grateful before the Lord. Even if there was nothing else good that He had ever done, I need to be forever grateful for who He is. For it is His nature that brought about the gift of salvation that I partake of every moment of every day of all eternity.
It seems an appropriate time of year to be reminded of that.
Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls –
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.