What Is Joy?

Brothers and Sisters,

I must confess I don’t know how to answer the question I posed in the subject line of this email. To echo what St. Augustine said about time: if no one asks me, I know what joy is. If someone asks, then I’m stumped.

In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis framed his life before Christ as one long pursuit of joy. He described this joy not as happiness or pleasure but an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”

Joy was that transcendent something he couldn’t define yet nevertheless wished he had above all else. And for much of his life, Lewis sought that which he could not find.

Once he became a Christian, though, Lewis gave up the search.

He realized that joy was not a thing to be sought. Rather, it “was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.” So long as he didn’t know the Other, he hopelessly trained his energy on the pointer.

When you’re lost in the woods, Lewis said, a signpost is a glorious thing to behold. But when you’re back on the road, even the flashiest sign loses its luster. Why? Because you realize that you never really wanted the sign. You wanted the place to which the sign pointed.

Joy is like that sign. It points beyond itself to Another. If we seek the sign for its own sake, we’ll never find what we’re after. As I said on Sunday, we’ll never find true joy by looking within and choosing to be joyful. Instead, we must cast our gaze upward and outward to God and those He’s called us to love.

This week, I pray that we won’t choose joy so much as delight in the One who, for the joy that was set before Him, chose the cross on our behalf (Heb 12:2). As we come face to face with Him, may we learn firsthand that, in His presence, there is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11).

In Christ Alone, Kenny