Joy in Ordinary Life

Erica Gilliland

What makes you deeply happy?

Is it watching your children play? Sitting in a hammock by a trickling stream? Helping others flourish? Building a bookshelf? Viewing art? Soldering metal? Having a good conversation over tea? Indulging in a good story?

Those things that make your soul leap within you-- deep joy that is sometimes too other worldly to articulate. Those things that are but brief, yet, you would return to them over and over again if you could. As brief and trivial as they may seem perhaps there is a glimpse of eternity to be found. For in those moments that bring us joy, we have but a taste of the life that is meant to “drink us down” (2 Cor. 5:1-50).
But it is in those moments we often question ourselves for finding “happiness” in certain things because we say “oh it’s too earthly,” “too trivial,” or “too unspiritual.” Are these statements a reflection of reality? Or are they a remnant of our fallen minds tainted by a false asceticism or the Gnostics or legalists? Contrary to such life suffocating frameworks, humans beings were made for joy and it is our human imperative to experience joy in the ordinary things of life.

To even begin to understand, we must get a little historical for a moment to see the origins of joy.

The starting point for the discussion must begin with God himself. God himself is the source of joy. The Creator of joy. Even the manifestation of Joy itself. Recall the story of Creation in Genesis. Consider, why did He create? Could it simply be that He was pleased to? Could it be for any other purpose than joy? (Whoa, whoa hold up! Now the theologians might be objecting to say that God created so that His glory might be known. Yes, without question, but what is glory but a “weightiness” which affords joy? It is the seeing of God as He is— and that, my friends, is joy—which results in the esteem due to Him. When we truly see Him as He is – His “weightiness”—then we know joy.) God’s joy is in being who He is, and all that entails, including revealing himself as Creator.

It was God who created that which was “pleasant to the sight and good.” Then He formed beings made in His image to live and flourish in His creation. Now, here is the exciting part for the first man and woman: they were dwelling with God face to face, and walking in that pleasing garden with Him, enjoying the fruit of His hands with Him. Joy is directly linked to the presence of God. You see, God was happy to share His glory with His creation that they too would know joy in seeing God face to face for who He is and all that He is.

Then comes the sad part of the story (which makes the grand part even more glorious). That first man and woman sought to live apart from the presence of God. Through the deception of the snake, they saw a potential delight that was not given to them from God. It was sought apart from Him. The result: they hid from His presence. It isn’t as if they lost their garden or “goodness,” but they lost God himself; they lost dwelling with God face to face. As a result, they lost their humanity. They lost who they were meant to be, for what is man’s “glory” but to be who he is truly supposed to be?

Now all creation is eagerly waiting for the revealing of the Sons of God that it may obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8). Yes, things will be made right again, because God was not pleased to stop acting. He couldn’t; it’s not who He is. So enters Jesus, as God continues to move to make His dwelling with man. In Jesus we see the climax on which the whole story hangs. Jesus shows us what it truly means to be human, in that we dwell with God and see Him as He is. Jesus knew firsthand “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). It was the joy of Jesus to dwell with His father and all which that entails. He desired that His disciples would have this joy of His fulfilled in themselves (John 17).

Yet, Christ does not merely show us who we were meant to be; He is the very presence of God himself to humanity. And what does the presence of God mean for us? It means we have the joy that is directly connected to His presence. Where the presence of God is, “sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 51:11), replaced by gladness and joy (thank you, Prophets!). Now, for those found in Christ, this reality is truly true, but not yet fully true. We have not been left without His presence, though there is much to come: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). This is the moment that all creation is groaning for, when humans will be restored to glory in His presence. As John attests for us, “they will see His face.”

Lesson learned from history: Joy is directly linked to the presence of God.

Okay. So we know this, but what exactly does this have to do with knitting? Canoeing? Building diesel engines? Fly fishing? Watercolor?

I argue that it has everything to do with those things.

Because if we truly believe that our joy is made full in God’s presence, it redefines our relationship with creation and how we partake of what He has made. We give lip service to God as being Creator, but have we realized the truth of what we say we believe? Can we even comprehend the far-reaching implications of “by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16)? My mind just about explodes if I try to. This grand God, for example, created something called work—subduing, creating, flourishing—and through that which is created we see His glory, for we see a glimpse of who He truly is.

So all of creation, and all we do in that creation, is all part of the Great Dance (thank you, Lewis, for writing Perelandra) of interconnectivity that leads to the display of and joy in the glory of God. We were created as whole beings, so I suggest that we stop living as if we belong to fallen humanity and begin to delight in the good that He has given us. We should be marked by joy because we have God’s presence and we can begin to see a little more clearly how things are supposed to be. I suspect the certain things that make human beings deeply happy give us a taste of joy, because they are connected to something “other” or perhaps better said, someone “Other.” And that Other is this discussion we’ve been having: the presence of God, and in His presence, things are the way they are supposed to be. Perhaps, we can even say those things that make us deeply happy connect us to another world. A world where things are the way they are supposed to be. A world where we shall see Him as He is and creation will obtain the freedom of the children of God. A world where man will truly be human.

Yet, I fear we have severed ourselves from one of the very things that make us human, by denying ourselves joy in created things in hopes of being more “spiritual.” For, to be human is to bear the image of God and experience joy. So when I find happiness in watching plants grow, or camping with family and friends, or making something with my hands, or smelling the pine trees in the mountains I am participating in something that makes me a human, bearing the image of God.

You see, “human nature” is not our problem; in reality, we feel a burden to know humanness.

We strangely use the phrase, “I am only human,” in the opposite manner that we should. For example, as an excuse for laziness, we say “I am only human.” But the declaration is better made upon completing work or participating in those things which connect us to our humanity. The problem is that we have lost that which makes us human: dwelling face to face with God, seeing His image. Because of what happened in what we call Genesis 3, we now are cursed with “missing the mark” of being human. We can echo the words of a great protagonist, “I have never before seen a man or a woman. I have lived all my life among shadows and broken images” (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, ch. 17). Yet, praise be to God this is not the permanent situation and we can see God face to face because of the work of Jesus, who restores us to the humanity we are unable to grasp apart from His presence.

The marring of our humanity has done much to confuse us when it comes to joy; the consequences of the fall have been far reaching. Now we would seek to find all satisfying joy in things that have no permanence on their own (you name it-pleasure, nature, relationships, decorating, eating, etc., etc.,) or we often swing the other direction and feel guilty for finding delight in “earthly” things. Yes, sin has marred that which was good and now we have what we often term “idolatry,” but let us not throw out the baby with the bath water so to speak. Let us return to Him who gives meaning to all those things we delight in. I have no doubt that Adam and Eve were meant to find joy in watching the seed bloom into a flower, wonder at the stars, in the laughter and conversation, or as they subdued the earth. That was part of their humanity. Joyful was the way things were supposed to be. Those things were intricately connected to God. Though we experience a creation subjected to bondage, we still get a glimpse of God for who He is in those things we experience as joyful, such as nature, relationships, and creativity.

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Let us take a journey. You come over a hill and see the mountains, your destination. You spend a half day hiking to the peak. At the top you do all you can to soak in the vast view of countless mountain lakes, distant ranges, the feel of the still air, the face of your happy companions. Your heart is elevated because you feel joy. You just know your eyes were meant to behold beautiful things. Yet, it is not enough. You are not satisfied. You know a taste of joy, but that joy comes from another world. And that joy demands permanence. So that deep joy you feel brings your eyes to the Creator who brings you even greater joy because it is in Him that your joy is known.

He is for our joy in even the little, “earthly” things, because ultimately it all comes from Him and is for Him. Joy is the result of seeing God for all that He is and as a result of His presence, we experience the delight that is to be found in all things. For having taste buds and eating good food is not an end in itself, but only a means in which we taste and see that the Lord is good. Yet, even now though we only see through a glass dimly, we can fight the fight of faith that the Lord is good and HE is our Joy