In 1955, C.S. Lewis published a book about his early life called Surprised by Joy. I always loved that title. It does seem that joy has to sneak up on us sometimes, that it has to surprise us in order for us to make room for it in our lives.
But I’d like it to not be that way for me.
Our culture praises and even idolizes productivity–busyness, to-do lists, full schedules. But is that the way the Kingdom of God–of which we are citizens–operates?
In the above-mentioned book, Lewis states that “Joy is never in our power,” meaning that we cannot make it appear on command. I think I agree with him, but I also believe that it’s possible to create an atmosphere–a space–where joy is more likely to alight. And the life full of relentless activity that our culture promotes is, I suspect, NOT a place where joy can appear.
Think back to a moment when joy snuck up on you. Where were you? What were you doing, or NOT doing? Lewis describes one such moment in his life:
As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it.
Can you picture him, standing there on a warm summer day, enjoying the sight and scent of those flowers? Being still. Fully present in the moment.
I have a similar memory. It was Christmas morning a few years ago. It was just the four of us–my husband, me, and our two kids. All the presents had been unwrapped. I had a cup of tea or coffee in my hand. And I was just watching my children laugh and play with their new gifts. I started to cry. In that moment, I felt such joy, such a sense of fulfillment. I felt like I was glimpsing life as it was meant to be–a peek at how life looks in the Kingdom.
And then last week I took my kids to see a Monet exhibit at a museum in San Francisco. At one point, I had the kids just sit on the benches in the center of the room so I could move around the walls and engage each of the paintings. I came on one that brought tears to my eyes almost instantly. It was a painting of a bridge in early morning with a few early pedestrians crossing it. The quality of the light, the sense of “there-ness”–of being there in that moment–was so strong. As Lewis goes on to say:
It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased… In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else… is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy…
I think that my “joy” moments and Lewis’s have something essential in common: both of them involve being totally engrossed in the moment–outside of oneself–undistracted by anything else–being what many would call “completely present.” It’s in moments like this that joy finds an entrance.
And so, while joy may not be something you can conjure up or create at will, I suspect that there are ways to create space for it in your life. I don’t mean that you can engineer those moments when joy shows up, but that you can work to create a lifestyle where those “completely present” moments are a regular part of your days. I think there are practical things you can do to chase joy.
For one, you can reduce the noise in your life. For me, as I’ve been working to create space for joy, this has meant unsubscribing from nearly all the promotional emails I used to get. It also means turning my phone off at night and not turning it on again until I’ve had a cup of tea and a half-hour of quiet time in the morning. I have significantly reduced the amount of possessions my family has–both to create visual order and white-space in our home, and to reduce the amount of time I spend cleaning, picking up, organizing, doing laundry, dusting, etc.
I have a lot of other strategies I’ve used to remove clutter-both physical and mental-from my life, and perhaps I will write more about them in the future. But creating space for joy isn’t just about taking things OUT of your life. It’s also about putting things IN…like trips to art museums, or the library, or a hiking trail. Or maybe cooking something from scratch. Or sewing something for your home. Or writing a song. Or a blog post. Or just sitting in your backyard and feeling the sun, or the breeze, or the rain on your skin.
How do you create space for joy in your life? Please let me know in the comments below!