Rocky can’t believe his luck… he takes some of the money and heads to the casino where he starts gambling – and to his great surprise, he wins! In fact, he wins EVERY time. Rocky is so excited – raking in the money.
Flash forward 6 months and Rocky is going crazy – he’s bored. Pip visits him to see how he’s doing and Rocky says – ‘it’s just not right – I shouldn’t win EVERY game’. Pip says – ‘well what percentage would you like to lose? We can adjust it to whatever you want!’ Rocky says – ‘that’s not the way it’s supposed to be!! Look – there must be some mistake – I shouldn’t even be in heaven anyway…I want to go to the other place’.
Pip looks at him and say, ‘what gave you the idea this was heaven? This IS the other place!’.
The point of the story is that if we got everything we wanted, life would lose its joy. If we won every time we played a game, we’d quickly be bored. It’s the losing that makes the idea of winning so attractive. Likewise if we could buy everything we wanted, we’d still get bored – look at the celebrities who go and steal insignificant things just to add some excitement to their lives. If our loved ones never died, we would take them for granted and never appreciate them or the loved ones we still have. As hard as it is to imagine…Somehow, the ‘losing’ is part of Joy. It’s in losing that we recognize there MUST be more to life.
As much as you and I think it would be awesome to have everything we want – God knows better. God knows that it is the longing for something that actually is the source of joy. There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis which seems to confirm this idea… “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be'.”
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
He says Joy is when we long for something…not possessing something. Doesn’t that seem backwards? Surely joy is getting that perfect gift we wanted for Christmas! Yet we all know that the perfect gift loses its glamour within a short amount of time. We placed all our joy into one thing, and we end up feeling Melancholy as we realize what we wanted is NOT fulfilling us like we thought it would.
Christmas time is nostalgic – especially in our culture. We’re always dreaming of the white Christmas – just like the ones we used to know… Christmas as a child was magical, other-worldly, almost heaven. Yet as we get older, we constantly look back to that memory, and Christmas just doesn’t measure up anymore. Maybe because our parents or siblings or our children are no longer around. This time of year just makes us miss them even more.
How, with all of these depressing thoughts, can we possibly follow Paul’s words to “rejoice at all times” and “give thanks always”. At a glance, that’s unrealistic.
Depression and melancholy are almost constantly taking swings at us…punching us in the gut. But – if we look again at what C.S.Lewis said about Joy: – All Joy reminds…. It is a desire for something long ago, far away, or still about to be… Joy is what gives us those memories – Joy is what fills us with that sense of longing. See – even in our depression, God is reaching out to us with Joy. These stabs of pain are a tug from God. He’s reminding us that our joy is not to be complete this side of heaven. God is the hound of heaven – constantly pursuing us….but we often ignore him. Instead, We keep pursuing that one thing we long for – graduation, a perfect job, the perfect spouse, the dream house, that 22 point buck, that next beer, or another bowl of ice cream – whatever it is that we THINK will bring us joy… and we devote all of our energy into pursuing that – ignoring God who is constantly breathing down our back as He pursues us.
Fortunately, God will not be ignored…We suddenly see a beautiful sunset, and there’s a feeling in our heart… like we recognize that there is a source to this great beauty and this brief moment is just a taste of something bigger and better. It’s a passing feeling… this temporary joy doesn’t last and we’re left with an ache in our heart. But if we can change our thinking about these moments and recognize that they are just peep-holes into the grandeur of God – These pangs of longing are the breath of God breathing down our neck - designed to create that desire in our hearts to come closer to God. Yes – what I’m saying is that our LONGING FOR JOY is actually a gift from God to pull us closer to him.
Not easy to believe, not at all! – but think about my story – Rocky had everything he could dream of. He HAD nothing to long for… there was no sense of longing, because in Hell, God is not present. That sense of longing is a sign of God’s presence!!! That’s my punch-line: the sense of longing in our hearts is actually a sign of God’s presence!! Joy is reaching out to us.
Not easy to believe… but recognizing God’s presence is the first step to being able to do what Paul told us to do: “rejoice at all times”
...even when it feels like we’re losing.