Stomachs growling, our group of four left the airport late at night to find a restaurant in a city we didn’t know, and did we ever find the right one! The Agave and Rye turned out to be full of surprises — its artsy views, its heated back patio, and its delicious food. But nothing held more surprise than Kingsley, our server. Bubbly and beautiful, the New Zealand native sat several times with us to chat. First about our food choices. Then about how she landed in Louisville. And, finally, about her dreams of going to New York.
That meal, those conversations with our new friend set the tone for the rest of our vacation. Every time we sat down to eat, we made it a point to get to know our server. At each tour, we did our best to engage with our guide. And it changed our trip. The sights we set out to see became as much about getting to know the people who lived there as getting to know the area.
The stories we heard and the hearts that poured out surprised and blessed us beyond what we could’ve imagined. The craziest part of all of it — we didn’t start out with this plan. It happened so naturally with Kingsley that we instinctively became more intentional with our future interactions, and our eyes were opened. I suspect we glimpsed a little of what God sees everyday. Talk about sightseeing!
Seeing As God Sees
We, too, have much to see on this Journey of Joy. In fact, as we perengrinate along the roads of life, we will come across places that need to be explored, even excavated, to find joy. Sometimes these places are planned stops where we highly anticipate joy. Other sights come along unexpectedly, taking us by surprise. But, whether joy is expected or not, each location holds joy. We just need to see as God sees and look for it.
One way to find joy at each of the sights in life is to fully engage while there. We can look people in the eyes, fully seeing them rather than staring at our phones or feet. We can talk with the person in our path, asking about their day, their life. We can ask God to give us eyes to see the way He does, to make us brave enough to speak up and listen well.
One of the women we met in Louisville was Day. Born and raised in Louisville, she overflowed with southern charm. Each time she stopped by our table, one of us asked her a question, and she was quick to reply, often elaborating. When she delivered our breakfast, she opened up about what a hard year it had been in Louisville, getting honest and real. We just listened.
By the end of our meal, her tone shifted. Where her brows once furrowed, they lifted as she told us about her new home in a safer area and how much she loved the people she worked with, even speaking the words, “It’s gonna get better.” Her resilience and grace moved each of us deeply. Her story opened our eyes and hearts — so much so that my friend asked how we could pray for her. And Day reached for his hand to join in our prayer.
After breakfast, we left our table full of notes and blessings to our new friend, Day, but we were the ones who stepped out into our day full of God’s joy.
Digging for Joy
Another way to unearth joy at each sight along our journey is to look beyond the varnish of life to see what lies beneath the surface. It’s too easy to gaze upon an old home and only see the chipping paint and sagging roof, but if we get past the cosmetic to visualize its true beauty, we will be gifted with the joy of discovering its rich history and the unimaginable stories of the people who lived lifetimes ago.
Similarly, with each season of life, we can bore beneath the grief, the pain, or the regret to find what God has waiting for us. In my current season of solitude, of beginning the hard work of becoming a writer, and of learning to parent adult children, I’m being taught how to get beyond the disappointments and frustrations. Some days my digging looks more like scooping sand with a spoon. Other days, I bring out the backhoe. But no matter what I’m digging with, I try to get beneath all the feelings to look for God’s joy.
Some days I find joy in the simple sound of birds chirping at our feeder or flowers blooming in the pots my husband planted. Other days I’m giddy for the warm sunshine. But there are days I need to dig deeper, so I call a friend or reach out to my parents because I need real interaction with real people. Some days I’ll pull out a stack of note cards and write to people I know who are grieving or celebrating. Then there are moments I turn everything off and just sit with the Lord. I’ll even talk out loud with Him about everything I’m thinking and feeling, remembering to praise and thank Him. And, every time, joy arises.
On the chance this sounds too simplistic or impossible for where you find yourself today, I humbly challenge you to give some of this a try. Unearthing joy can be hard work, but it is not impossible.
“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”1 Chronicles 16:26-28
As I read this verse, I begin to understand why I find such joy most days in the smallest of things — Juncos chasing each other with a mad whirl of chirps and sunbeams breaking through gray clouds — because the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him. And when I seek joy in the people and plants and paintings and pieces of music around me, I find joy because God made it all! His very essence holds joy, so it only makes sense that His creation carries joy, too.
Don’t get me wrong, digging often gets dirty. On those days when I am struggling with my sorrows or tempted to give in to panic, the depths of mud I have to slog through are messy. But worth it. CS Lewis warns us, however, not to settle for making mud pies when true joy is to be had.
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.”CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Lewis sets up quite the contrast: God’s promises versus our desires. Reread his words and hear God’s voice as He makes you a promise. In case that is hard for you to imagine, here are a few promises to embrace as your own:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9
These are promises spoken into being by the Promise Keeper. Actions made possible by the Way Maker. Paths revealed by the Light of the World. Yet, as Lewis explains, too often what we desire pales in comparison to what God offers. Too often we settle for less.
Like a child who wants to go on making mud pies because she can’t imagine a trip to the beach.
Friends, let’s dig for joy at every sight we pass on this journey of life! There is so much more for us than scrolling social media robotically, watching TV numbly, or looking out our windows wistfully. We don’t need to settle for a moment of fleeting happiness when God is trying to hand us a lifetime of joy. His joy. True joy.
Tools for the Digging
Our journals become mighty excavation tools, revealing nuggets of God’s truth, uncovering troves of hidden motives, and bringing to the surface broken pieces of our lives that need to be restored. I pray that you continue to use it consistently as part of your faith journey. In your journal today, take some time to ask God to show you what your mud pies are. Where do you settle instead of embracing all God has for you?
I journaled my own response to these questions back in January, and my eyes opened to the truth that my desires are too weak. I settle for worrying my prayers instead of speaking them with faith and thanksgiving. I settle for what I can see instead of allowing God to dream bigger dreams within me. And, because I desire so much for my adult sons, I too often neglect my own desires.
I’ve been working to stop settling for mud pies and to start looking for God, asking Him to awaken my heart to His desires for me. Since praying those prayers, this blog series on joy has emerged, which is no coincidence. Writing these posts has been opening me up to God’s desires for me. It’s giving me new perspectives on how to live my life, for God, in the world. God’s desires for us are deep, indeed!
Instead of settling for mud pies, let’s set out from this moment forward to journey through life with intention. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see all the sights around us so we can see as He sees, allowing God to surprise us with what and who comes along our paths.
Emily P Freeman challenges you to “…take some time to look out the window. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and, in turn, within you” (The Next Right Thing, 233).
Her wisdom is appropriate as we set out to see the sights — we’ll miss half the surprises if we don’t also look within ourselves at each point because God will put places and people and bits of creation in front of us that are meant to do something within us.
This journey we’re on is one of transformation. Nothing will bring true joy like allowing God to use what we see to focus the eyes of our hearts. Broken places will be healed. Dreams ignited. Hopes raised. Grief comforted. Doubts assailed. Fear defeated. Shame atoned. Regret redeemed. Joy released!
One of God’s biggest surprises of our Louisville trip happened as we sat eating pizza at a local hang out one afternoon when I noticed a woman madly waving in my direction. I quickly convinced myself she was flagging down a friend who must have been standing behind me. But when she didn’t quit, I glanced over at my friend, and we wondered aloud if she was waving at us.
When I looked back, I realized it was Kingsley!! I squealed her name as if she were a long lost friend, and before I could think what to do next she was at our table, offering hugs to each of us. Obviously, she’d been as moved as we were by our dinner at “her place.” And, she jumped at the chance to spread a little more joy with uninhibited goodwill and grace.
Settling for anything less than God’s true joy means missing out on the very thing He desires for us. It’s my prayer for each of us that as we move into the world, or even look out our windows, we’ll see each opportunity God offers for our joy. And, like Kingsley, we’ll not be able to contain ourselves when we find it — we’ll spread that joy to all who let us!
Grateful for God’s surprises, Shelley
- Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. Ellie Holcomb’s song “The Broken Beautiful” captures so much of this particular post with lyrics like,
You say that You’ll turn my weeping into dancing
Remove my sadness & cover me with joy
You say your scars are the evidence of healing
That You can make the broken beautiful
- This week’s journaling prompt might sound deceptively simple, but I pray you’ll give it some real thought — what are the mud pies that you settle for? Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
- Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
- Last week’s travel word was coddiwomple, English slang meaning to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination, and probably the most fun of our travel words to say out loud. I want to adopt it into my everyday vocabulary: “I’m just gonna coddiwomple on up the road.”
- The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
- Finally, I mentioned Emily P Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing.* I just keep coming back to it.
*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.