I’m a wanna-be outdoorsman. Though I’ve done my fair share of camping, fishing and hiking, I’m a greenhorn when compared to Munro baggers, volcano boarders and glacier cavers. I’m fascinated by people who climb sheer granite cliffs, hike the 2200 mile Appalachian trail, navigate angry rapids, hunt wild game. The last time I went camping, I cut myself whittling a marshmallow stick for my kids and ended up in the ER.
Recently, I got back in touch with my inner mountain man when my wife and I visited Yosemite National Park in California. On the first day, we visited Mariposa Grove where sequoia trees stand like towering red sentinels. One sequoia, the 209-foot Giant Grizzly, started growing around the time Isaiah was prophesying in Israel!
On the second day, we wound our way up to Glacier Point, where we soaked in a breathtaking panorama of the valley. Our eyes feasted on Half Dome, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the high country, bathed in gentle spring sunlight. On the third and fourth days, we hiked to Mirror Lake, did a little birdwatching and took in Bridalveil Falls. With each new vista, my heart shivered with a joy that my lips just could not express. I think I uttered “wow” a few times, but now the interjection seems silly in the midst of such stunning natural glory.
During our stay, I kept thinking about the joy that C.S. Lewis experienced on his road to conversion. When he was a child, his brother Warnie constructed a toy garden in a cookie tin. Lewis took in the miniature Eden with fascination. Later, he described the experience as a combination of “bliss, loss and longing all at once, a desire beyond words.” This emotional montage he labeled “Joy.”
Mountains and forests don’t bring Joy to everyone. Some people’s idea of camping out is roughing it in a Motel 6. Joy can waft in on a piece of music, the laughter of a child, a stirring description in a book, a moment of prayer. But wherever it comes from, true Joy is unmistakable: it spurs the heart to grow wings and soar into another world. One of the Hebrew words for joy, giyl, means “to tremble.” This is where joy and amusement part company. Amusement tickles the pleasure center for a short time; joy burrows deeper and whispers to the eternity in the soul, causing it to quiver with a yearning we can’t etch into human words. As Lewis wrote, permanent Joy “is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about-to-be.’” For a believer, God is the ultimate Joy. We do not possess God; God possesses us. Joy is the natural (or supernatural) result of the Author of Joy filling our minds and hearts. “But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may exult in You” (Ps 5:11 NASB).
I’ll never be an extreme outdoorsman. But I still love the outdoors, because it imparts Joy that a new gadget can never bring (for one thing, I don’t have to call tech support because a blue summer sky or bubbling stream won’t give me error messages).
Where do you find Joy? What does it feel like? How does it differ from happiness or pleasure?