Joy From the Lord

(Long post, just hang on)

Almost twelve months ago the new year started. A friend of ours, a young man in his early twenties, about to get married, his whole life ahead of him, couldn’t stop marvelling that we were on the precipice of a new decade. It was no longer the 2010s, it was going to be the 2020s. His exuberent, youthful hope was adorable. Endearing. Listening to him wax poetic about the new decade brought smiles to our faces the same way a dog walking on it’s hind legs does.

Looking back our patronization was the foolish choice, not his naive enthusiasm. If I could change anything about this year it would be to go back to that New Years Day and applaud when he started talking about the new decade. I would encourage that young man to have Hope. To let him know that feeling hopeful at the start of a new chapter is absolutely exactly the way one ought to feel, and there is nothing silly about being excited for the page to turn.

But we didn’t know. Not yet. We’d heard of the mysterious and unexplainable coronavirus spreading in China. Taking lives, and leaving people worse off. We’d heard the rumors. We’d even heard the infectious disease experts say “It’s not IF it comes to the U.S., but when…” We didn’t know, however, what it would look like, or how bad it truly was. We laughed at that young man, because we didn’t know.

We didn’t know that millions of people would file for unemployment this year. We didn’t know that businesses would have to shut down and people would have trouble paying their rent. We didn’t know that take-out delivery drivers were “essential workers”. We didn’t know how scared we would be for our grandparents in nursing homes, our children in schools, our loved ones in hospitals, or ourselves learning to cope with social distancing. We took for granted the benefits of a hug.

We didn’t know that a white police officer was going to kneel on the back of a black man while detaining him. We didn’t know the force of that knee would lead to the the black man’s death. We didn’t know police were going to charge into an apartment one evening and shoot and kill an unarmed, innocent woman. We didn’t know a man, jogging in his neighborhood, was going to be set up by a pair of white men pretending to need assistance only to shoot him in the street. We didn’t know thousands of people would take to those streets in protest. We didn’t know that a seventeen year old boy was going to drive to another state, to shoot and kill said protesters.

We didn’t know the dawning of a new decade might be our last chance to feel hopeful.

***

One of my favorite holidays is Halloween. I lean toward the macabre naturally so any reason to dress up a little spooky is an opportunity I don’t like wasting. This year, foolishly or not, my church hosted a Trunk or Treat in our parking lot. I decided to go as how I’ve been feeling lately. Which is a nice way of saying I half-assed my costume. All black clothing, a black costume top hat, and an exaggerated smokey eye — between my (black) face mask and hat that was all you could see of my face. Before leaving my house I wanted nothing more than to be the cranky, old witch I have always assumed my soul is. I’d had a tooth extracted the previous Wednesday, so cranky and peevish wasn’t too far from how I was feeling anyway. But a strange thing happened that afternoon.

As we parked our cars a space or two apart in the lot, decorated our hatches, arranged our candy, set up cones to direct visitors in an orderly fashion, the children of the other participants were running around in their costumes. We had a ninja, Supergirl, Belle, Goldilocks, escaped convicts, Spiderman, Storm Troopers, Baby Yoda, scarecrows, unicorns, and my personal favorite, a plague doctor. All these little faces, little friends who got up that day excited to put on their costumes, have their faces painted, to transform into a character just for the day, were running around, playing tag and hide and seek. When they came around and said “trick or treat!”, their little eyes were shining in anticipation of chocolate and nougat and sugar. And I found, inexplicably, I couldn’t be cranky, fatalistic witch woman. I just couldn’t do it.

***

During Jesus’s ministry he was constantly being mobbed by people. He once was backed up against the Sea of Galilee and had to get into a boat to preach so everyone could hear him (Luke 5: 1-11). Men and women came from all over to see the carpenter’s son, this teacher they’d heard so much about. Women even brought their children to be blessed by him. But Jesus’s disciples scolded these women and tried to turn them away. They thought the children were a distraction from the Greater, Important Work Jesus was doing. But Jesus said, no, no, no, “let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them,” (Mark 10:14 NKJV). It would be easy to just say “oh, Jesus had a soft spot for kids!”, but it’s actually greater than that. Children, watch any travel show, are the same everywhere. They’re sweet and goofy and silly and funny and kind. They see good in the world, they see love. They take in everything with wonderment, because everything is still new to them. Even at twenty years old they get excited about arbitrary things, like a new decade.

It is with this child-like attitude of wonderment we are asked to approach our relationship with God. In Matthew 18, the disciples ask Jesus who is the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). Jesus calls over a child and answers them, “…whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 18: 4). Anyone, he is saying, who has that child-like sensibility, who, like the Psalmist writes, has “hope in the Lord,” (Psalm 131:3), will be not only enter God’s kingdom, but they will be Great. Because, as Jesus continues in Mark 10, “of such [children] is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it,” (Mark 10:14-15).

Adults are so bogged down by the things we didn’t know were going to happen. These things weigh heavy on our souls. We are afraid of getting sick, of our parents getting sick, of leaving our children when this virus, or the police, or this world crushes us and kills us. We’re worried about finances, paying rent, mortgages, car payments, we’re worried about taxes, and unemployment. We’re worried about the election (ohmygoodness, if you are an eligible voter and you haven’t yet: GO VOTE). We worry about health care. Racism. Drug addiction. Suicide. We’re held down by all this fear and worry and demoralization. We turn to God, but we forget to turn to God with that child-like attitude.

Which really is as simple as trust. In the words of David in the third Psalm:

"Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
"There is no help for him in God."

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people 
Who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people."

God hears us when we speak to him. When we vent, when we ask for his guidance. He hears us, and he sustains us. He gives us joy, just like those children this Halloween. Those little faces on Saturday were not scared. There was no fear. No worry. No misery. No exhaustion. Their tiny bodies were lighter than air. They floated around that parking lot. They were filled with joy. That same Joy is the sort we can receive from the Lord when we delve into his Word. All we have to do is trust him.