So ‘Days of Thankfulness’ backfired a little… why? It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t know’, on the surface of it. But when I really think hard as to what was stopping me from posting just three things that made me thankful and writing about why, I’m pushed to admit that it was because I let nothing, on that day, make me thankful.
I’m thankful when I’m joyful. Joy is one of those amazing, heart-enlarging emotions – I hesitate to even call it an emotion – that is so powerful and deep that it can subsist even with sadness and anger at evil. Happiness is a shallow, momentary thing. It’s possible to be happy and not thankful: a baby on a swing is happy and usually only cares that the exhilaration continues; the moment you remove it from the swing it starts howling again. Joy is a God-experience. A deep-seated contentment grounded on an assurance of unshakable love, which extols the one who inspires it. Joy, for me, is the essence of thankfulness, and it expresses itself in worship.
It’s funny that the smallest things can make me joyful: the tracks of snail slime jewelling a spider’s web in the park, a lone mallard waddling up and down the beach, glancing at me out the corner of his eye. The stuff that makes those fireworks of awe go off inside my head is the sort of stuff that happens every day, and yet over the past couple of days I’ve just not been feeling the joy. Another thing has been true of the last couple of days: I have been far from the Lord. I know that this is no coincidence. In fact, I would say that this has been the cause of my joylessness.
Frankly, I have been running away from God because I wanted to waste my time on worthless things, and I stuffed my mind with a smorgasbord of ephemera to quench my abiding sense of his thereness (I knew he’d catch up with me eventually: when God has your number, you can never really get anywhere before he tracks you down – it’s especially telling that with reference to Francis Thompson’s poem, John Stott called Christ ‘the Hound of Heaven’ for his propensity to do that, and considering C.S. Lewis’ testimony, he’d probably have said the same too). Why should a person feel the worshipful, thankful sort of joy of spiritual delights when they’re on the run from God? The causation of distance from God and joylessness makes perfect logical sense. This thankfulness-inducing joy in me is the sort of joy that produces worship, so when you run away from the object of your worship, it’s not surprising that you don’t feel that joy. Far from the Lord, I can see my Nan and enjoy seeing her and feel happy, but not feel the deep, swelling joy that takes me aback and inclines me to praise the God of heaven in delight. Far from the Lord, I can enjoy a complementary frozen yoghurt after filling up the stamps on my loyalty card, but what I feel is that smug sort of satisfaction of having got something for nothing and the pleasurable rush of endorphins as the chocolate swirls around my mouth, rather than a joy that renders praise for an act of grace. Simply, when I’m far from the Lord, I can still feel happy, but it’s a shallower sort of happiness: a happiness cut off from joy and meaning. I go about like a happy automaton from one thing to the next, eating but not truly tasting, looking but not truly seeing. Nothing is connected to anything, and life and its pleasures seem fragmented and devoid of existential permanence. It’s as if the flavour and brightness of the world has been dulled, and my actions become driven by a mercenary thirst that sees little further than the advancement of myself and my own.
When I’m of one mind with the Lord, or when I try to be, it’s as if I’m looking at the world through awe-tinted glasses. Everything looks beautiful. Or sad. Or lovely. Or horrifying. The world is an artwork, and I behold it in awe. One thing the cosmos seldom looks when I have my mind in the Scriptures is boring: its good things are always greater, and more meaningful, than the advantages they confer upon me, and its bad things are not just vaguely unpleasant insomuch as they touch my emotions, but they are evil, and evil enough that I can call them ‘evil’, and can seek out God’s purposes for having them happen. As the truth of the Word of God illuminates the world, little things of nature and human flourishing and the Spirit can often become imbued with meaning and truth even as I look upon them, and that makes them exquisite to me.
To cut a long story short, I’m sorry. I spent so much time looking at worthless things that my heart was lured away from my chief joy. I’m happy to be closer to the Lord again. I resisted coming back to him because I wanted to wile my time away on unprofitable nonsense, just as a naughty child evades her parents because she doesn’t want to hear the words ‘bed time’. I can feel the life seeping back into my veins like water in a wilting plant, and my joy is returning. The world is starting to look brighter; its tastes, richer. Soon enough you will see more ‘days of thankfulness’ to complement the previous ones, so stay tuned!