Something about what brings us joy

Something about what brings us joy

I remember the moment vividly.

Around the 33 kilometre mark of the 2010 Boston Marathon, there was a thought: ‘why couldn’t I have had a passion for a more sedentary pursuit like, say, archery’. I’m not sure why archery got the call-up. Perhaps the image of Simon Fairweather at the Sydney Olympics wasn’t a particularly agile one.

While Boston was a brilliantly memorable event, it wasn’t a great marathon for me personally. The slowest of the lot and, given the pain that I was in, highly forgettable.

Ask me about it now, and there’re plenty of upsides. I ran Boston, for one. The hype of a marathon-obsessed town; the camaraderie of the bus journey to Hopkinton; the cacophony of the screaming women of Wellesley that began to increase from a kilometre away and shrilled to a crescendo; all of these are joyful memories. Even my good mate, Brad, yelling ‘c’mon you hapless water buffalo‘ as I laboured up the hills of heartbreak, is a fond recall. Now.

But 33km in? Not the best time to ask. A short-term timeframe can be a bad gauge of long-term joy.

As I shared with The Big Table yesterday about framing 2016 in our series “Once more around the sun”, we considered some criteria for working through the less/more/same process of all that makes your life, your life.

I talked about one of Marie Kondo’s criteria for discarding stuff in The Magic Art of Tidying: “Does this spark joy?”.

It’s a great question to ask when it comes to keeping or ditching a t-shirt, but it doesn’t stand up so well when it comes to framing a life. It’s certainly not so flash on matters like people, commitment, obedience and faithfulness.

Sometimes joy lies.

Here’s what can change your understanding of joyfulness: time frame.

For most people, myself included, 5:11 am is not the time to ask whether running sparks joy. I know enough to answer ‘yes’ all the same, but at that time of the morning, snoozing is more likely to spark joy.

Ask me at 10 pm the previous night ‘will it bring me joy?’, or at 9 am when the ‘getting up’ moment is forgotten, ‘did it bring me joy?’, and the answer will be far different.

There’s something about the timeframe that shapes the understanding of joy for us because it allows our meta-narrative to take its place in our story.

The quintessential expression of this principle comes in the person and work of Jesus.

Death is inconvenient: socially, spiritually, and emotionally. Death by crucifixion even more so: physically and culturally. Ok, inconvenient is a mild adjective. But Hebrews 12 lets us in on a bigger story:

[Jesus] who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame… Hebrews 12:2

What made the cross ‘endurable’ and the shame ‘despisable’ was the bigger story going on: the joy of the Father that was laid before Jesus.

The joy of the Father changed what joy looked like for Jesus.

Was there joy in teaching and discipling twelve men whose eyes were being opened to the revolutionary currency of the Kingdom of God? Sure. Was there joy in healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf? Surely. Yet there was also a deeper joy driving both of those: the joy that came from willing obedience to His Father and the pursuit of the Father’s joy.

By the end of ‘cleaning house’ in the message yesterday, there were four criteria with which to the frame the stuff we embrace, accelerate, decelerate or discard in 2016:

  • Does it glorify God?
  • Is it faithful to what I’m called to as a follower of Jesus?
  • Does it spark joy in the short/medium/long term?
  • Am I willing to make the empty spaces that can be inhabited by his glory and for his glory?

Cultivating joy is a sweet thing. Along with grace and the freedom that comes from following Jesus, perhaps the sweetest. Like so many other things in life, though, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

I’m not comparing crucifixion and carrying the sins of the world to getting up for a run in the morning, but I am suggesting that making life decisions based on short-term thrills or convenience alone is a poor marker for building a deeper joy.

As you craft the possibilities that lay ahead in 2016, hold that tension loosely. The joy of the later is easily sacrificed for the lightweight joy of the now; by doing so, we regularly exchange something that is great for something that’s barely good.

Thanks for listening.



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      Simon Elliott

      I think, along with function, it’s a great question for material stuff and in fairness to her, that’s what she’s writing about. I’m the one who decided to give it broader application!

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