“Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.”
I love this quote from C.S. Lewis. I love just about everything he ever wrote. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were the two most influential authors of my formative years as I turned to their fictional worlds over and over and over again for adventure, inspiration, and comfort. This line, however, came not from Narnia but from the text adaptation of the type of show that was the precursor to podcasts. They called it radio.
I was reminded of this beautiful quote from Mere Christianity by the talented John Mark Comer in his December 6, 2020 Advent teaching on the topic of Joy. You can watch or listen to it for yourself here: https://bridgetown.church/teaching/advent-2020/joy/
As I thought about the way this C.S. Lewis quote made me feel when I heard Comer reference it, I thought about friendships and the way I get to understand a little bit more about the nature of good things from the examples of my friends. Now, this isn’t intended to be a ranked inventory of friends, and I didn’t want to take the time to seek my friends’ permissions to use their names so I’m going to anonymize this piece. I hope it remains readable. I suspect that if you know these friends, you’ll know who I’m referring to immediately. I further suspect that if you don’t know these friends, you may find the same qualities in other friends and acquaintances of your own. If you do, tell them about it. It’s far too easy to express the critical observations we have about the people we are connected to and far too easy to neglect to share the ways they are glorious and wonderful.
“If you want joy… you must get close to… the thing that has [it].” Joy is a word that can feel too religious or hackneyed, especially around the holidays. There have been too many well-intentioned but wrong-headed homilies that attempt to divorce joy from happiness, for example. If you were to ask me to think about what it means to be joyful, I would very likely default to religious and hackneyed sunday-school answers that involve words like perseverance and faith and trust. Those aren’t bad things themselves, for sure, but I’m not sure they capture the real meaning of joy.
Through listening to the Bridgetown podcast that I linked above, I found myself appreciating the explanation of joy as an emotion that includes and also transcends the sensual. The word delight stuck out for me. Several images leap to mind when I think of delight. And as I click through those images in the ViewMaster of my memories, I feel gratitude for what these connections, relationships, friendships teach me about delight. About joy. And hopefully because I’ve been fortunate to surf in the wake of these friends’ delights, I’ve caught enough of it, been infected enough by them, to pass along something similar to those I love.
I made a new friend recently. We’ll call him B. We met through the social-networking part of a fitness tracking app that we both use (Strava. You can find my profile through this link: https://www.strava.com/athletes/7649215). B and I sometimes train together in outdoor swimming, cycling, and running. He’s an elite multisport athlete and thus capable of much greater speed and distance than I, but makes no complaint about swimming or cycling or running at paces that I can manage. That’s pretty special in itself, but it’s not why B comes to mind when I think of delight. Each time we get together to swim/bike/run he expresses his enjoyment and appreciation for my company. And I can tell that he really means it. There’s an earnestness in his eyes when he articulates the delight he finds in our conversations. To be clear, the conversations are on bike rides and runs. We don’t talk much in the water! B’s ability to revel in his enjoyment of a simple conversation with a new friend as we run through the woods gives me a picture of delight that serves as an instruction manual in joy.
I have another friend who we’ll call K. K is the kind of guy that I really admire because he knows how to do just about everything. He can find a broken camp stove that’s spent the past twenty years rusting away in the woods and fix it to better than new. He can troubleshoot seemingly any mechanical problem. He’s a skilled outdoorsman who can shoot and fish and hike and ski. He’s also an excellent conversationalist and a generous person. If we were picking teams for a zombie apocalypse, K would be a first round draft pick. But the reason K. comes to mind when I think of delight is because of his daughter. Sometimes when it’s dark outside and we’re sitting around a campfire, K’s daughter will sit down next to him and hold his hand. The look of adoration that comes over K’s face when this happens is beautiful and wondrous and he makes no attempt to disguise it. K. delights in his daughter’s friendship and affection. That this human swiss-army-knife of a man is so wordlessly expressive in his fatherly love is an inspiring primer for me in delight. In how to do joy.
G is the third and final friend I’m going to write about today. He illustrates delight in several ways. When a perfect cut of A5 Wagyu is placed in front of him, the tip of G’s tongue sticks out between his lips as he smiles and rubs his hands together in anticipation. When he takes the first sip of a perfectly crafted cocktail of gin and Chartreuse and Luxardo, the twinkle in his eyes is pure delight. While G is an exemplar of joyous delight when he’s enjoying the finest in food and wine, he’s most in his element not when he’s consuming but when he’s sharing. G takes such visible delight in providing hospitality for others. His generous spirit is as expansive as it is inclusive and the enjoyment G takes in observing his guests’ enjoyment is the very picture of generous delight. Of joy shared. He’s the most infectious font of delight I know. I like to dabble in the art of hospitality and credit my friend G for any welcoming warmth I show in opening my home to others.
Thank you for taking the time to read through these reflections of mine. I hope they may serve as a kind of leaping-off point into your own examination and exploration of delight. Every day I grow more and more convinced that we are meant for relational connections for so many reasons. One of them is just this: I understand joy more deeply and am capable of a greater array of delights because of the examples and inspirations of my friends. May you seek and find delight in those you know well, as well as in those you are just starting to meet.