This last Sunday I went to my families’ annual fall festival. Some of us carved pumpkins. Others got to play in the crisp fallen leaves that so beautifully blanketed the backyard. As Batman I was one those that got to play, and I was the one who got to rescue Princess Eva from the ferocious clutches of Worker Man Caleb. What an honor.
When the night snuck up on us cloaked in cool darkness, we drifted inside and settled into the cozy warmth of coffee and soup and conversation. My grandpa and I snickered about the almost ridiculous amount of drinking in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises while little Zoey and Ruth waddled by in their ice cream cone and little lamb costumes. Only for a moment did we step outside again so we could vote on who carved the best pumpkin. Grandpa, either dressed as Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island or Saul from Oceans 11 (he never did tell us who he was), stole the show and took home the innocent pride that comes with 1st place in a family pumpkin carving contest.
For a few moments I had the chance to simply sit and watch all that was going on in my uncle’s living room –grandma silently sipping her strong cup of coffee, dad falling apart with laughter, Liz and Yevy Skyping Rachael in Uruguay. And in those little, precious moments something was given to me that could never be earned by all of my trying and working and struggling.
I think it was joy. I say I think because there’s a whole lot wrapped up in that little word. Last time I thought of it as the feeling of all is well in my own little world. Sometimes it’s having a dream about camp and then dressing like camp and then running into Camp Friend Peter who’s also dressed like camp and then flooded with a whole season of terribly wonderful memories only camp could give. To Fredrick Buechner it’s something that “can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes. Even nailed to a tree.”
For a while I have been told that my life on this earth is about converting the most people I can or becoming the most moral person I can or having the most spiritual experiences I can. And that’s what the so called “good part” or religious part of society has been telling me. The “secular” part of society has their own little shpeal: become the most confidant you you can, buy the most things you can, have the most sex you can. All of these voices are saying I have to exchange this life I have for something bigger or better; I have to earn, buy, and schmooze enough so that I can finally be fulfilled.
But the thing I’ve been slowly (oh so slowly) coming to know is that no amount of time or money or effort I have can buy me a moment in that cozy little living room. It’s simply a gift placed on my lap and I have the choice to open it up or look for something better. And most the time I think there’s something better out there. But more and more now Jesus has been giving me moments to just sit and watch, to look at grandma and dad and even the loneliest moments of my life, and see Joy. Know Joy. Breathe in Joy. And in those short few moments it’s not about me anymore. I don’t have to prove something. I don’t have to make it all right. I just sit and enjoy the glory and the goodness and the joy of God in my families’ faces, in my rocky past, and even in my loneliness now. There’s a certain terrifying freedom that comes with knowing I can’t earn the best things in life.
So in those moments I’m learning to thank God that I can’t buy what he has to give. It’s pure grace. And that’s what’s been getting me out of bed lately, knowing that today I don’t have to earn something. I just have to accept it when it comes.
“What Jesus is saying is that men are made for joy and that anyone who is truly joyous has a right to say that he is doing God’s will on this earth. Where you have known joy, you have known him.” – Fredrick Buechner