This is rough, and obviously abbreviated, but I think it’s just about right.
The secret of life – the great secret of life – is that what brings us real joy tells us who we are. God wants us to live lives of joy and has therefore put the blueprint for finding joy into our very being which is made in his own image. Since every good and perfect gift – ie what brings us real, lasting joy – comes from God, the more we know God, the more we will recognized joy. And the more we recognize what brings us joy, the more we will know who God uniquely created us to be.
But there is a forgetting that is part of being human, and we forget who we really are or how to find the blueprint for joy. So, we piece together a sense of who we are from our experiences, other people’s input, ideas we come across. Most of us struggle just to get to know this poorly reflected version of who we are. We rely on emotions whose meanings we only vaguely understand to guide our choices because the discomfort they create is so awful that any reasonable person seeks escape. We escape by seeking pleasures we know are harmful because they offer that respite from the discomfort our lives cause us.
One of the most important roles that religion has played has been to help us avoid and recognize when what we are being offered is a false version of what we really need in order to be joyful. I believe in my heart of hearts that Christianity offers the purest, most accurate understanding of who God is and what we need to return to our true selves. But that’s a longer discussion for another day. The point is that who a child is seems to be God-created or inborn. What parents and other environmental factors are doing is reflecting back to their children how they see them and giving them guidelines for how best to live. The more accurate the parent’s reflected view and the more accurate their directions are for that child, the better chances that child will grow up to live joyously.
The reason almost all of us find ourselves struggling with some form of this cycle is because there is some part of us that remembers the blueprint and we are struggling to get back to it. The blue print is calling to us “this way lies joy”. However the world has placed so many distractions between here and there that few are able to find their way through to what will really bring them joy without getting taken in by one or more of them. These are the demons and the lies of demons roving the earth, blocking the way to who we have been created to be. The reason these distractions are so effective is because each one is built around something that is actually pure and good. So a person who has been created to find joy in being courageous can be sidelined by engaging in dangerous and reckless behavior precisely because it appeals to something good and pure in him. A person created to find joy in caring for others can be engulfed in unhealthy co-dependancy and enabling relationships. A person who finds joy in observing and experiencing what the human mind can create may become greedy for money to buy these things. Sin is tempting not because we desire things that are not of God. Sin is tempting because it pretends to be a good enough substitute for the things of God that we truly desire. The problem, of course, is that these phony versions of what we are looking for never bring the genuine joy that we are made for. And they never offer us complete relief from the discomforting emotions we were trying to get away from to begin with.
The first step away from the traps that have been set for us lies in getting to know joy better. Then we will better recognize its call and its imposters. This is why worship is so important. When we contemplate that which is perfect love, we are coming closer and closer to the source of all that is good and joyful. When we add music or chanting or movement to our worship, we bring our bodies into the process of experiencing joy. When we do these things with others we experience creating joy with others. This is what our whole lives are supposed to be like. Without moments of awe, joy and reverence we will have a hard time even recognizing what we should be looking for. Of course, these moments can come from many sources – but God is what is being experienced whether the person realizes it or not. Religious worship is simply one of the quickest and most reliable ways for us to experience the glory of God.
So, the secret of life is this: figure what brings you real, Godly joy and do that. The more you are able to do that, the more you are living not controlled by the flesh, but by choosing to be who you have been made to be. When you are living out of who God created you to be, the enemy’s traps hold no temptation and fear no longer controls anything you do. You may not know what will happen going forward when you live this way, but you will be living in joy and love in all things.
*This essay was first published in June 2011. I figured some of you who missed it the first time might enjoy it! 🙂