March 4, 2009
An Excuse to Be Joyful
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
The state of Virginia fell into utter panic Saturday evening, for lo, the weather apostles had announced that doomsday was near! The threat of snow caused Virginia residents to repent of locking away of the snow shovel in some now-forgotten place and they rushed to buy new ones. As is the custom, worried Southerners swept gallons of distilled water and bars of crunchy granola into their grocery carts in an attempt to ward off the impending storm and power outages with edible amulets. But for the first time in four years, their attempts failed.
By Monday morning, the city of Richmond was blanketed in eight inches of the powdery white stuff. The whole city essentially shut down, bless the Virginia Dept. of Transportation’s best efforts.
As the day progressed, I couldn’t help looking out my window (there was no way I venturing out in my cute little Chevy) and trying to convince my husband to go outside with me. He was content to read and stay cozy inside the house, and I certainly wasn’t about make a fool of myself by myself. It wasn’t until his nephews and nieces spilled out of their nearby house that we finally suited up and waddled to their yard.
What a difference from the rest of the city! Their front yard was covered in footprints, and the short slope already packed firm with sled tracks. Five kids were darting back and forth, shrieking with the fun of snow returned after so many years. One of them commented that the yard “looked like Narnia” during the winter, and that was as ponderous as they got. They were focused on carrying out their own inventions – which included a ramp off the retaining wall – and having the time of their lives. Unlike the adults, they spent very little time figuring out how to get around the inconvenience, and as much time as possible rejoicing in this mysterious cold stuff called snow. They did what kids do best – play with all their hearts just because they can.
While we threw snowballs and made snowmen and took pictures with the kids, I again wondered at their wonder. A few years in Pennsylvania had taken the edge off of my excitement, such that I probably would’ve puttered indoors all day if they hadn’t been around to encourage us. Why is that we adults need an excuse to play for the sake of playing? Or an excuse to actively wonder instead of passively observing? I love snow days inside a warm house, but it’s hard to beat the breathlessness of a blinding white world surrounding you.
Perhaps that’s one more reason why Jesus told his disciples that they had to become like children to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:14). While the adults were concerned with what was proper, the children were blessed for just wanting to be near Jesus and experience his love. What’s more, their clear eyes beheld the incredible and were content to enjoy it, not to explain it or bother with its inconvenience. Perhaps childhood joy that hasn’t yet realized its “proper” limits yet is the purest joy. Meanwhile, our overfamiliarity and decorum keep us in check. And when our old sin nature has charge of us, we’re blinded by it completely. As John Piper writes in his devotional Taste and See, our callousness towards God “is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy.” Held back by our sin, we see the dead winter and can’t imagine anything better – certainly not a new, fresh world draped in white.
What would it be like to again experience those joys as fresh and new? To not need an excuse to wonder at the incredible? When Augustine of Hippo wrote about his first moments as a believer, he said,
How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!... You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place… O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation. (Confessions, IX, 1)
It’s time to forget the excuses and go revel in the freshness of our Lord’s mercy.
Intersecting Faith and Life: Jesus prayed, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25) Consider your own nephews, nieces, children, friends’ children, and observe their wonder at new experiences and gusto in playtime. Can you say your faith rivals that kind of joy?