Last week, I wrote about the joy of the Lord. This week, I’d like to discuss it a bit more, but from a different perspective. Specifically, I’d like to invite us all to reflect on how we have a tendency to steal it from ourselves.
This morning, my wife and I (along with our dog, Happy) grappled with a spectacular but challenging hike. It was about 5.5 miles long, but what made it especially challenging was the fact that it was almost entirely uphill on the way out. And not only that, but we gained over 1500 feet in elevation. So it was tough, to say the least.
As I was leaning into the mountain to ascend it, I mostly had to watch my footing since the trail was decorated with many small and medium-sized boulders, some of which were loose, so it would be easy to take a potentially nasty tumble. So since my eyes were fixated mostly on the trail directly in front of me, much of my enjoyment needed to come from other senses. A stream whispered at first, beckoning us to find it. When we did, the symphony of water rushing over rocks reached straight into my soul. Soothing me, restoring me. The trail wound through a forest populated predominantly by various pine and spruce trees, so the scent of Christmas wafted through the July air.
I was cherishing this hike, to say the least.
However, every once in a while, I would look up to make sure we were still on the trail (some of the trails in the San Isabel National Forest aren’t well marked). When I did, a temptation began gnawing at the edge of my consciousness to get discouraged about how much more steep uphill still lay ahead of us.
There I was, thoroughly enjoying the hike, but then I nearly allowed discouragement to rob me of the joy I was experiencing.
That made me wonder how many times I–and all of us–allow concern for what lies ahead to steal the joy of the moment from us.
In order for the joy of the Lord to permeate us, we have to live in the current moment because that is where God meets us. He is timeless, not bound by time, but He made us so that we experience life as a stream of moments–seconds, minutes, hours, days flow by us. Once they are passed, we cannot get them back.
If we walk upstream, delving into our past, God is not there because we’re not really there, either. Although God can help us heal from the wounds of the past, He does not meet us there. And although He can see our future (since He is outside of time), He also does not meet us there, either. So when we let our worried minds wander downstream in moments not yet come, fretting about what might be, we go there without God.
I have a dear friend who is a devoted follower of Christ. But as hard as he tries, he frequently cannot stop himself from worrying about the future. I have reminded him that you cannot live tomorrow until it becomes today. Even though he has made that somewhat of a mantra for himself, he often still cannot resist the temptation. And in succumbing, he robs himself of the joy of the moment. I’ve watched it happen with him. We can be doing something that I know he enjoys, and at first, when he’s present in the moment, he really is feeling that pleasure. But at some point, because I know him so well, I can tell when he has left the moment to wander into the future, worrying about something that will probably not happen. It’s sad to watch, really, since he has given up some of the joy that God offered him. Wadded it up and thrown it in the trash can.
So here’s my thought for the week: don’t let the whole steep climb of life rob you of the rich possibilities for joy in the present moment. Don’t look up and wonder how you will ever make it to the top–keep your eyes only on the next step.
As I was pondering this during my uphill hike, God brought Psalm 121 to my mind (this is one of the ways God speaks to us in real-time, which is why it’s helpful to be familiar with Scripture):
God is waiting for us at the top of the mountain. Sometimes He’ll venture down to help us when we’re struggling, but other times He won’t, preferring to root for us and help us in other ways we can’t see. I don’t know why that is, but I think I’d like to ask Him when I meet him face-to-face.
In a secular context, I also thought of the song “The Climb“. This was sung by Miley Cyrus in 2009, before she, ironically, succumbed to the climb herself and became someone else entirely. My younger daughter introduced it to me back then, before she also stumbled off the path herself. Anyway, the song is worth a listen. The topic isn’t exactly the same, but it still offers some nibbles to ponder.
Whether you prefer to listen to God or to a young Miley Cyrus, the point is that none of us should let what lies ahead, no matter how steep it appears to be, steal the joy of the moment from us. Listen to the stream, allow its gentle whispers to fill you with peace and restore your soul. Inhale deeply when you stumble upon the scent of Christmas in the middle of July. Life can be full of wonder and joy, gifts from our Loving Creator, if you’ll only allow yourself to live in the moment so that you may find them and cherish them.