On Joy – How It Can Sneak Up On You

After reading C.S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy” again I felt inspired to write. Since I was fortunate enough to get a snapshot of his world while visiting Oxford, I’ve thought about his experience of “Joy” in spiritual terms and how, coincidentally, years after he wrote this book, a woman named Joy appeared in his life. If you watch the movie “Shadowlands,” you can get a glimpse of how a man’s carefully constructed fortress can crumble into ruins when a strong woman enters the picture and how a garden of emotion can grow in its place.

The three elements I noticed about Lewis’ definition of “Joy” is that it involves an intense experience of feeling that can be traced back to childhood; that the feeling is bitter sweet; and that the feeling is accompanied by a deep sense of Other (an overall sense of connection).

What’s strange is that I experienced this feeling of “Joy” while standing by the pond where Lewis used to sit and smoke his pipe. I recognized the feeling because I used to get it sometimes as a child while walking to school with a friend. We’d gaze at Penetang Bay from the top of the Sandpit and I’d often procrastinate with stone throwing and such so that I could saturate myself with the moment—enough that I could recall it if I happened to get into trouble that day. At Lewis’ pond, I felt a twinge of that old sense of awe for the first time in what has seemed like ages.

It made me recall the last time “joy” truly sneaked up on me. I went an hour or so north with a girl I had been dating, and she introduced me to a very beautiful location that I would never have known existed otherwise. There were streams of water gushing out of big slabs of Canadian shield, a quaint wooden bridge where you could look out over a lake, and a quiet, little waterfall. It would have been quite a scene to soak in by myself and I knew it, but the sense of sharing that time with her made me appreciate it all the more. I remember that bitter sweet of it all and how it evoked those warm childhood feelings. It was very special to me because we knew the moment had to end, the sense of connection in the relationship was destined to end, and even that sense of God behind the whole experience had to end as well.

I think the consolation behind Lewis’ so called “Joy” is that it’s unpredictability and rarity make it special enough that when we do experience it, we remember it. And yet, as Lewis said, “Joy” is “only valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.”

Therefore, the one element I did not mention is perhaps the most important, the impression the experience of “Joy” leaves on the heart. As Lewis point out from his own experience, this impression of “Joy” sticks around so that we don’t really have to pursue it over and over again—although it will certainly appear—but rather, so that we can spend our lives trying to deepen that connection to its source.

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