Being In Fear of Joy2
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."
These dramatic lines begin the famous book by C.S. Lewis, "A Grief Observed." I accidently begin reading this after I finished one of his other writings, as it was next in line within a "Complete Signature Classics of Lewis." I found myself sitting, and hanging on every line he wrote as he observed in stark and candid lines the emotions he felt after the death of his beloved wife.
My interest is not because I currently have experienced loss. In fact, for whatever reasons (which I am trying to understand), life is currently the best it's been for me and my family in any recent memory. To begin with, my relationship with Jesus is the strongest it has been in quite a while. As 2016 comes to a close, I've been working a single job and not two since April, with no homework or school work to fill my nights and days off - something that has not been the case in nearly ten years for me. My work hours have reach the standard of what is required of a working man today, whereas it had exceeded it during my bivocational years. I don't make a lot of money, but it is enough to have a comfortable life. My children are happy and plump and healthy and joyfully wild. My marriage is strong, my lovely wife seems to be flourishing. Things are very good right now, and maybe it's due to some of the factors, maybe not. This has been the way I have been analyzing things, and I'm realizing it is not the best way to view things.
The occassion for my writing was this odd feeling of fear I have often felt beneath this joy. And it was triggered again as I read those opening lines of a "Grief Observed." Maybe this post should have been titled "A Joy Observed" - or something close to that. Only because, as I read through the first few chapters of that short book, I felt the same fear I have been feeling for a while begin rising up once again. Finally I understood the nature of that fear.
It is a fear of joy. This season I am currently in has brought me tremendous joy, that much is true. It feels like consumming your favorite treat all day - something reserved for a special day or two has become my daily reality. Below the joy, though, there has been an undercurrent of fear. I have a fear of loosing it. And in fear of loosing it, I've often restrained myself in my joy, and in doing so, loosing any kind of tangible permanent foundation for where true Joy should actually stem from. My joy has been shaped so much by my circumstances that surely, if an unknown tragedy would enter or some unexpected hardship take place, it could dissapate as quickly as a gust of wind or a quickly passing burst of snow.
I realized my sin. I have been letting this good and happy season (that by God's grace has simultaneously found its way into our family right at the most joyful time of the year - Christmas - only amplifying the joy) becoming something ultimate. A flood of Scripture began flying in my mind, and I entered one of those moments where I nearly felt dizzy from the array of thoughts moving at the speed of my crazy children running laps in my living room. I stopped and let what I supposed was the Spirit of God bringing to rememberance the things I know (as Martin Luther would say, allowing the Spirit to "preach" to you), but things that I also, well, forgot. Being content in all things by the stregnth of Christ, regardless of any circumstance (Philippians 4:12-13). Where was my head? I know it, but my heart has found to be unnaffected by what I confess to know. Tis the story of the Christian life!
But I think there is also a word for those who are not having a joyful season, for those who have recently suffered a great loss or tremendous hardship that is causing joy to be very unnatural, horrible events that almost bring a guilt or embarrasement to be joyful. Maybe you feel you should not be in joy, and find it almost a duty to walk in grief if you want to be true to what has happened in your life.
As humans in flesh and bone, we are always seeking for the Ultimate. That is, we are always seeking something to be an End in itself in order that a void may be filled. Grief and hardship seems very much out of place in this life, but as we can do with joy, we can make grief and End in itself, allowing it to command most of our emotions, life, thinking and habits. I am not speaking from much experience, but only from shadows of hardships that were not life-altering (like my 18-month old spending a week in a hospital with severe pneumonia, my daughter receiving a luekimia scare from a blood test that turned out to be negative), but for a quick period of time, completely rocked my world.
We can't live in fear of joy or grief, even though both can bring out fear. The battle in life is to have Jesus be our Ultimate, the very One who we allow to fill all the voids we are trying to fill. Then, when we feel strong, we will be OK if weakness or trial comes, and we will find strength when we feel weak (2 Corinthains 12:9-11). As Paul was able to say,
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:12-13 ESV)
In Christ you are strong when you are weak. And if you are strong, you will not be rocked by weakness that comes with hardship. Christ came to begin the reversal of these out of place things. He also came to bring Joy to the full (John 15:11), joy that isn't dependent on what is happening around you. Christ, as the theologians say, is immutable. He never changes (Hebrews 13:8). This is mirrored in our lives by the power of the Spirit when our joy is immune to abundance or need.
I hope I can eventually learn this one.
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