Straight up joy. That's what I get from this girl. It's impossible not to respond to her; to light up as I watch her beaming, begging me to do the same. I can't help but be thankful for the way she radiates delight, a distraction in the purest sense from the darkness that swirls. Her happiness is blissfully innocent, but I have to believe that even as we grow out of our childish beaming, we can know something of a joy that is hardy even as our lives may grow hardened.
I feel like I've always been on a search for joy... maybe because I struggle with a melancholy personality, or can have tendencies towards depression. I think in part because I know it's what we were made to experience, and it's promised in the Scriptures in the oddest of places; like where Paul opines about joy in hard circumstances, or watching David trip over himself describing his joy in God's commands.
I read this wonderful (he quoted Flannery O'Connor, and I was smitten) article about sentimentalism in poetry and it struck me that so much of the joy we strive for can be of the sentimental sort. You might wonder why sentimentalism is bad and what is has to do with joy? The problem with sentimentalism is that it skips to the good part without including or acknowledging the bad. "Sentimentality offers us the dubious chance to feel while bypassing the messiness of any real human engagement: not too much feeling but too thin an experience." And for all of us walking the broken paths of this present world, the bad is constantly there to be reckoned with. But true joy can be found without having to get sentimental. It can stand our hard reality, and even grow there.
A few weeks ago, as summer drew to an end and we set our sights on getting back to China, I picked up the classic biography of famed pioneer to inland China, Hudson Taylor. Having read it at different times throughout my life, this time it sang to me in a fresh way. This was a man who had joy. His secret was on display for all who came in contact with him, and it was nothing short of resting in the presence of Jesus. Now, granted the biography is written by Taylor's son and daughter-in-law and I'm sure that as with all biographies, there is interpretation and glossing over and some measure of glorifying the man. But the testimony of Hudson Taylor's life is affirmed by many who knew him, and his journals and letters also attest to an inner life that was sound and authentic.
More than anything, as I read of his many trials and sorrows, the loss of children and his wife, the setbacks of political unrest and persecution, being misunderstood and criticized, the physical weariness and frustrations of illness, I couldn't help but be moved by the way he spoke so lovingly, so confidently of the comfort and joy he experienced as time and time again he flew to the presence of his Savior. Prayer was his secret joy, not a burden. Soaking in the Words of Scripture was his daily food, not a legalistic discipline. If you read stories like The Poisonwood Bible or the life of Pearl S. Buck, you can be discouraged by the cold, legalistic, sometimes even cruel picture of those who claim to be people of faith. But here in Hudson Taylor was a man who glowed with real joy and rest in His God. He was a testimony to the life lived fully embodied in his flesh and circumstance, while fully engaged with his spiritual soul.
I'm almost ashamed to think about the fact that as I sit in my comfortable apartment, I am on the very soil Taylor literally gave his life trying to get to... that inland part of China and all it's millions that so burdened his soul. I wonder what he would think of all those who are here today. His testimony still blazes today and for someone like me it is a battle cry to live with joy-- by pressing in, kneeling down, pouring out, drawing near, and looking up.