Friday, October 5, 2018

The Allusiveness of Joy

Joy: is there a more beautiful word in the English language? Is there a more allusive quality in human experience?

Joy is rooted or related, in some degree, to contentment. And, for most of us, contentment is difficult. We want. We desire. We feel empty, incomplete, and unsatisfied. And, so, we find discontentment rather easily, while joyful contentment remains allusive.

For much of the past six months, I have had a project. I wanted to complete a collection that I have been working to amass over the past 25 years. I wanted the complete recordings of The Beatles on compact disc. Not a noble pursuit, to be certain, but a desire that has been with me for a long, long time. And in my wanting, I flew caution to the wind and went on a buying spree.

Now, fortunately the costs of compact discs these days have greatly depreciated in the midst of the cloud-based digital media craze, so my buying spree didn’t break the my bank. But, in my haste (rather, discontent with what I already had) to complete my collection, I got reckless and purchased the same CD three times. Yes, I now possess three copies of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album. My craven, ill-contented mind became forgetful. I was buying what I already had.

Obviously, this situation is not earth-shattering or life-crippling, but I am afraid it shows something of my character. I struggle with the joy that is contentment, and it is a struggle that has significantly affected me. I am impulsive about many things, and I am convinced that dissatisfaction is the culprit.

I’m ever looking for the greener grass. I’ve done so with things: desiring to acquire more and more stuff because of the perception that these things would add some fullness to my life. I’ve done so professionally: growing dissatisfied with what I am currently doing and desiring new works. But, now that I’m on the cusp of having lived fifty years, I think I’m beginning to see the folly of looking for the greener grass. In reality, that search is the pursuit of what I already have.

Contentment is recognition. Contentment is gratitude. Contentment is perception and perspective. Contentment is the refusal to buy the lie that has been told since Eden. That lie? It is simply: more is better.

Adam and Eve lived in a place of abundance. They had all they needed. Yet, the tempter sold them the lie, more is better. And like the couple of Aesop’s fable who killed the golden goose, they lost all in their pursuit of more.

The allusiveness of joy comes from greed . . . and a large dose of forgetfulness. We forget what we already have. We forget that green grass is growing at our feet. We forget the graces that we have already be shown.

Interestingly, the word “joy” in Scripture comes from the Greek “chara,” which is related to “charis,” or “grace.” Thus, joy is a gift. Or, perhaps better stated, joy is the realization that we have been shown grace. In other words, we are blessed. Our joy is not the product of more. It is not the product of new. It is not the product of better. No, our joy is rooted in grace . . . God’s grace.

Take a look around you. Don’t inventory what you don’t have. Take stock of what you do have. Be grateful. Be joyful. Be contented. Don’t seek to buy what you already have. The grass is rarely greener.

When the third Magical Mystery Tour CD came to me in the mail, my first thought was to return it to Amazon, but then I decided to keep it as a reminder of my folly. I need these reminders.

Joy is a work in progress. It is never a constant state. Fortunately, I think that Jesus offered us a tip for keeping joy alive when he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Matter of Convenience?

Would I have followed? Would I have allowed my day to be interrupted in such a life-altering way? Would I have given even an hour of my time?

The setting was the shore of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee), and it was the morning following an evening of intense but fruitless labor. Simon and his partners were wrapping up their disappointing night of work to head home,  empty . . . without the catch that fed their families.

You would have to think that they were tired, frustrated, and perhaps worried about the welfare of their families in the face of a night of failure. You would have to think that these men longed to leave the shore far behind and return to the comforts and security of their homes. You’d have to think that Simon and his friends were now ready to do what most do at the end of long and frustrating days. Was the local “Cheers” to be their next stop? Did the barcalounger beckon? Was there a tee time to meet? Was the Harley ready to be fired up?

But then he came. Jesus came. And scores of people were in his wake. And he needed a platform . . . a boat, to be used as a speaker’s dais, from which he could be removed from the crowd, but heard and seen by all.

We don’t know the thoughts of Simon, at this point. Perhaps he was glad for the diversion from the failure of his night’s work. Perhaps he was eager to put the nets down and hear from the man who had recently healed his mother-in-law. Perhaps, though, his thoughts were a lot like our own when our time is co-opted by something that takes us off task, or away from the rest we desperately crave.

Would I have opted to sit through a sermon after enduring a long and disappointing night of labor? I wonder. And what of you?

The attendance in our Sunday church services might give us a clue about our behavior in that moment. Perhaps we’re talking apples and oranges, but I see to many people who are quick to spurn a gathering of the church for may other things. And those absences are with a good night’s rest enjoyed beforehand. Simon and his partners opted to hear Jesus after their long night of labor. His words became their priority and not their plans for rest. The schedule for their day became quickly altered when Jesus showed up.

Am I overly cynical to say that we have made our faith too often a matter of convenience? Am I too judging to say that we have relegated meeting with our church family to the bottom of our list of priorities? As long as it doesn’t interfere with our work, our fun, and our rest, we will be there. Is this how we do things?

Simon dropped his nets three times in Luke 5.1-11. Once, when Jesus began to speak, he dropped the nets he was mending and listened to the word of God. Then, he dropped his nets again, at the insistence of Jesus; and, following a fruitless night of labor, he brought in a great catch. And third, he dropped his nets to follow Jesus, to give his all, to follow without reservation . . . to give his life to the One who would give His life for all.

Would I have done the same? Have I done the same? Am I partner of Simon in the faith and devotion he showed to Jesus?

It is a question of priorities. What is most important to me? What is most important to you? What you give your time to is an indication. What you give your resources to is an indication. What you prioritize clearly shows who you are and whose you are.

Would you have stayed to listen to Jesus after a long and fruitless night of labor?