On the Cultivation of Joy

G.K. Chesterton penned the words above in his youth, as he emerged from a dark depression and started to sense gratitude for simply being. Then came the thought that shaped the focus of his life: if he felt gratitude, then there must be someone to be grateful to. For the remainder of his life, his outlook was to be characterized by a unique wonder at the world–such wonder as few people retain past their early childhood.

When I read about Chesterton’s life in Kevin Belmonte’s biography of the man, Defiant Joy: the Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton, this above all the other events and achievements of Chesterton’s life stayed with me.  This man seemed the very embodiment of the joy which Jesus said that He would leave his followers. And in his life, I wondered if I saw a clue toward the cultivation of such joy. Such joy is not attainable in one’s own effort. However, like watering a seed allows the strength which is within to push through the confining soil and grow, there must be ways to cultivate the joy which I, a follower of Christ, have been given. The clue is gratitude.

Gratitude reminds us of God’s loving presence, which is our joy.  In Ecclesiastes, the writer moves from theory to theory about the meaning of life.  At one point, he settles on this point:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

[Ecclesiates 2:24-25]

Although the writer moves on in his search, this does ring true as an important part of life.  It is this enjoyment of life, this gratitude, that reminds us of God’s presence throughout our lives because of our knowledge that “apart from him who can eat [much less breathe] or who can have enjoyment?”

Enjoyment of the beauties and good things of life are a “common”grace–showered on all, believers or not, who are alive. People who have no knowledge of God’s grace can still be stabbed by a singularly sweet pain of longing and joy at a sunset or a moment of laughter with friends, overflowing with camaraderie. How much more should a Christian–a child of God–enjoy the gifts of productive work and refreshment given by a good and loving Father whose purposes will be completed, even through the mysterious and painful things that perplex us here.  In this way, the entirety of our lives–eating, drinking,whatever we do–can glorify God.  That is, in our acknowledgement of His presence, we are honoring Him and the good gifts that He gives.  And our hearts are turned to the reality that the world around us is full of wonders, and that there is a Joy that will have the last word.

Thus, we can, along with G.K. Chesterton, say,

You say grace before meals

All right.

But I say grace before the play and the opera,

And grace before the concert and pantomime

And grace before I open a book,

And grace before sketching, painting,

Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;

And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.


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