Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.Psalm 51: 12
When was the last time you felt true joy in your relationship with God?
Admittedly, this is rare for me.
Sometimes, I am frustrated and confused and distant. Most of the time, I am quietly confident, not necessarily spending time with God but giving a passing wave if I remember to during the day. When you grow up in church hearing the same stories, they can become dull. Or when you have prayed to God many times without hearing a word or being filled with a feeling, you can begin to feel complacent.
Why is this?
Why does this beautiful story of salvation give me less emotion than the ending of The Lord of the Rings?
I recently listened to a podcast episode by Beth Moore where she described a trip to the mountains (I think it was in Colorado). She had to go to the doctor while there, and she mentioned to the doctor how beautiful the landscape was and how she felt that she would never get used to it if she lived there.
“Well,” the doctor said, shrugging. “You gotta understand, I’ve lived here a year now.”
Beth stared at her, amazed. A year? She could get used to that view in just a year?”
But, Beth said, this is what we do with the joy of our salvation. Somehow, despite it’s beauty, we can shrug and say, “Well, I’ve been going to church my whole life, so…”
C. S. Lewis also struggled with this. He writes in “Sometimes Fairy-Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said”:
“Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical.”
Lewis found his answer in writing The Chronicles of Narnia.
“But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”
As a fantasy writer and reader, I have felt, especially in Narnia, a connection to God that was different from how I felt in church. But that’s not to say that church is bad for emotions. I think the point Lewis is making is that an obligation to feel a certain way can be a chain. Sometimes we need to let ourselves use our imaginations.
The reason why this topic even came to my mind was because of how a piece of art made me feel a joy for my salvation that hadn’t felt in some time. This was a song by Citizens called “Heaven is in Our Sights.” In the chorus, they sing:
“We will outshine the sunrise. We will outlast the moon. Glorified in your lovelight. Forever is all for you.”
The combination of those lyrics with the music hit me with an excitement that many other reminders of heaven haven’t been able to do. The image of the sun and moon fading away while I lived astounded me. Because even though I have always believed in eternity, this particular lyric made it real and tangible and amazing.
I wish I had that excitement all the time, but that’s not how our emotions work. I know that I won’t always be outwardly joyful about my salvation, but there are ways, I think, to practice joy.
As fantasy stories and music have shown, I believe that so much of our faith is spurred by imagination. Imagination is what helps us believe in something so seemingly impossible. Not because it’s not true, but because logic alone won’t understand it. Imagination let us look at the world around us and see God’s hands in every leaf and rock and seed. Songwriters and novelists and poets spur our imaginations to help us see things in new ways, including our faith and our relationship with God.
This is also why I believe in the importance of worship and a community of believers through the Church who remind us of our salvation. It’s why reading scripture again and again–or listening to it read on repeat–has helped me remember the beauty of the story of Christ.
Often, I am distracted by what I hope for the future and what I wish were true now, and talking about heaven has gone out of fashion because it distracts us from the present. But I wish we talked about it more! How beautiful it is that we have been given a place in eternity. How wonderful that we were made by a loving Creator. How incredible that we don’t mourn like people without hope because Christ is our life.
Today, I want to live with this joy by reminding myself and others of just how wonderful it is to be known by God.