I was sitting in the dining hall when one of my instructors came in the door. His eyes scanned the room, deciding where to sit. Then he hung his coat on the back of a chair at my table and went to get food, saying, “I’m think I’m going to sit right here, because you look like you’re enjoying what you’re doing!” Unfortunately, I was doing nothing more inspiring than munching on a delicious, pulled-pork sandwich.
But his statement struck me as unusual—is it unusual for people to look like they enjoy what they’re doing?
This little incident returned to my mind during a long drive to Maine. I had been driving for several hours and was accumulating a pile of used tissues as a result of a drippy cold, and was pondering the deep matters of life. I’m pretty sure I did not look as though I enjoyed what I was doing. However, the beauty of the day began to drown out the misery of a snotty nose, and it dawned on me how much of God’s creation DOES look like it’s enjoying what it is doing. This world has been cursed because of man’s sin, and the Bible describes it as groaning while it waits for the day when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21). And yet, have you ever noticed how much of joy and exuberance seems to be hard-wired into nature?
Humans seem to be more capable of apathy toward life, than any other part of creation. Have you ever heard a bird sing apathetically? Rather, the notes tumble out like a hearty giggle. Goats jump on and off of rocks just for the sheer fun of it, often adding another lithe twist and kick in mid-air simply because they can. Horses, dogs, and sometimes even cows, can be seen running through the grass, not because they need to, but because, it seems, their overabounding exuberance must come out somehow!
Even the inanimate things are full of vigor, intensity, and joy. God has built it into the bounce of tall grasses beneath the wind, into the tumbling of streams and the roaring of a waterfall, into the waving of tree branches in a gale, and the crash of waves upon rocks. Why else would He make dandelions such a brilliant yellow, and poppies a luscious red, and young ferns a fluorescent green, and mushrooms an audacious orange? Did God really mean for living to be so mundane and humdrum as we seem to consider it?
Of course, we humans encounter a lot of sorrow and difficulty that the animals and trees never face. We are designed so that our natures will not be satisfied apart from meaningful relationships, with other people and especially with God, who made us to know and enjoy Him. But this should mean that rather than being doomed to a doleful existence, we have been given an even greater capacity for delight and joy—for did not Jesus die in order that our relationship with God could be restored through faith in Him? Therefore, those who have trusted Him can enjoy not just life, but eternal life which, as Jesus described it, is “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)
Why, then, are we not perpetually exulting along with the rest of God’s creation? Why do the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing for joy (Psalm 98:8) while we go through life with long faces and consider it childish to clap and sing for sheer happiness? There are many reasons, of course. One is that we are too burdened with cares—although Jesus pointed out the birds and flowers as examples of those who leave their needs in God’s hands and live in rejoicing splendor. (Matthew 6:25-29). Another reason is that unconfessed sin fills us with guilt and therefore, and until those sins are brought to Christ for forgiveness, we don’t have freedom in our souls to rejoice.
But don’t you think that often we simply don’t remember to enjoy life? We focus on the few things that are difficult or annoying, and forget about the hundreds and thousands of things that are truly wonderful. That breath, for instance. Wasn’t it great? You didn’t even notice that you breathed, it was so effortless, so satisfying of your body’s need for oxygen.
Sometimes I find it’s a useful exercise to look at my life the way it seems to other people. Have you ever noticed how other people’s lives look so much more pleasant than your own? And it irks you when they say, “You have such a nice home,” or, “How nice of your inlaws, to babysit the kids,” or “it must be so nice to be able to spend that time with your grandparents!” –and you think, “if only it was all as great as it looks.” Well, isn’t it? Isn’t this house a blessing, even though the kitchen ceiling leaks, and the wood stove is hard to start? Isn’t it wonderful to be with my grandparents, even though I do trip over the walker or find Grammy’s stuffed animals in the middle of my cooking area?
But beyond all the stuff I have and the things I can do, isn’t it just intoxicatingly wonderful to be alive, today, seeing this glorious sunshine, alive to see the beauty of another day, healthy enough to be outdoors and to see what fun the Lord is having making the clouds dance in slow motion. Isn’t it splendid to see the snow driven by the wind, to feel the energy of the wind itself, and the gentler vigor of warm sunshine?
And beyond all that, far, far beyond all that, is the glory of knowing that I’m loved, personally and tenderly, by the God Who created all this beauty. There is the intense freedom of knowing that He has put all my sins out of His memory because of the blood of Jesus Christ. The rest of knowing that all my minutes and days are in His hands, to weave them together into something beautiful and joyous and useful. The anticipation that some day soon I’ll see His face and rejoice in union with Him for all of eternity.
And when you start to think that way, it seems impossible to contain the surging of joy and delight that starts from within. If I could draw it, the colors would have to include the whole rainbow and then some. If I could translate it into music, I would need a rollicking fiddle and a laughing banjo and then a clash of drums and cymbals, Tchaikovsky-style. If you could smell this joy, it would be pungent like citrus and cinnamon, and it would taste like them too, only with a dash of zesty pepper and the tang of mint. And how it would feel? Like standing in the wind on top of a mountain (the best place on earth to be, when you’ve had to work to get there), and like that exhilarating gasp that comes when you jump into a refreshing stream, and like sinking your hands into warm, moist bread dough, and like sprawling on a warm, sandy beach, and like diving into a field of fragrant grass.
Really, people, REALLY? Do we have good reason to go through day after day as though it’s not a miracle that we’re alive at all? To plod along as though life is boring and allow the dandelions and squirrels and—good gracious--even the crickets and frogs, to out-rejoice US? I sometimes want to shake myself and any other people who, when we have so few REAL troubles, live life with a long face and a plodding step. If I were God, I would feel as though I had a whole set of pouting kindergarteners on my hands!! Do you suppose, when He has promised to carry our burdens, that He wants us to carry them anyway and allow them to blind our eyes to the furious joy that He’s painted all across our lives? When He has promised to give us deliverance from our sins, does He want us to hang onto them because we are afraid of losing a little fun? Or, when we have confessed and forsaken those sins, does He think it spiritual for us to continue feeling guilty for them, and thus to miss out on the thrills that He embeds into life for those who trust and obey? Don’t you think that He made sunsets to be noticed and reveled in, that He made roses to be smelled and mountains to be climbed and forests to be explored and bird-songs to be listened to?
Don’t you think God WANTS us to enjoy what we’re doing, right down to eating a pulled-pork sandwich?