I remember the expression of joy crossing my mother’s face when I proudly displayed my first hunted kill. The pigeon hung from my 8 year old hands as red droplets collected on the linoleum floor below. “Look Mom! Look what I got! I got it with my slingshot!”
My mother in a moment of euphoric pleasure began dancing for joy. I smiled as I knew that she was admiring how her little boy was quickly growing into a man, “Get that thing out of here! It is filthy, dirty and diseased!” Odd statements of affirmation to be sure, but she was likely trying not to allow my 3 siblings to know of her immeasurable pride in me…lest they get jealous and begin to tirelessly solicit for her attention. My siblings could be so exhausting.
In her excitement, she forgot to send me out with a knife to clean it up for supper…so I left it on my dad’s workbench in the garage, figuring that he could clean it up when he got home. Then I went out to pursue more game with my Crossfire slingshot, wondering, “Who else could I bring some joy to today?...I know…my sister!”
I can’t think of any father who has experienced more joy than me, save that of my own father. One time my own children worked hard to paint the white trim of the shed. My joy had been made complete…until the remaining paint was spilled all over the garage floor, screaming of what looked like a ghost massacre had taken place.
Sadly, what stood out to me in that moment was the spill and not the gift of the painting. It is moments like these when I struggle with who I am and why I react the way that I do. I often do not rejoice and give thanks the way that I want to rejoice and give thanks when circumstances get in the way.
Last weekend was the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet. It was at this meet that my son and his good friend Hank ran in their 4x200m relay. These two have been inseparable since they were two years old and a part of this event for the past two years. It has been fun to watch this relay team as they continue to just keep getting better and faster. This season they qualified for the state meet and were putting together their fastest times yet. The team was seeded right on the bubble to advance to the finals and earn a state medal. In the week leading up to the final races Isaac, Hank and their other 2 teammates put in countless hours cleaning up their hand-offs and polishing their race mechanics.
When it came time for their race I was nervous. I knew what they had put into it and I desperately wanted them to run their best race of the year. I was convinced that if they could run their best race to date that they would have a great chance of advancing to the finals.
When the gun echoed and the first runners dashed from their blocks I watched as each team member and each hand-off went about as perfect as you could ask for. When they crossed the finish line they had run their fastest time yet and it was fast enough to qualify them for finals! I was ecstatic! So were all of the Little Falls fans! We were all cheering and giving each other high fives…until…two letters suddenly flashed up on the big screen behind the words Little Falls. DQ.
Oh how I wished those letters meant that the team had just earned free Blizzards from Dairy Queen. Unfortunately, those two letters meant that the team has been disqualified. Something in the race had happened that had eliminated their team from competition. They were out…they were done…it was over.
It took me a while to deal with that disappointment…but there was one thing that became clear to me after a little while…(in this case a little while may or may not have been the length of 3 days or so…). As disappointing as the result was…I found that I was still extremely pleased with how these boys had run their race. They were sweet and smooth on the track. Their hand-offs were excellent! Their sprinting was stellar. Did I want them to earn a medal? Sure I did. But, the feeling that had developed within me was still a feeling of deep pleasure for how they had run…and my privilege to watch them run. The DQ did not take that feeling away from me.
Joy is a very difficult thing to define. I think that this experience of mine has helped me just a little bit to understand how joy is given to us. Joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces joy in our lives much like a peach tree produces the delicious furry fruit. Joy is not dependent on my circumstances or the outcomes of events in my life. I think joy is something much sweeter…much deeper.
Paul speaks of joy and thankfulness in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22. Paul encourages us toward 3 things…to rejoice always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all things. Oh Lord, help me by the power of your Spirit to rejoice, pray and give thanks.
May you come to find a joy in the Spirit of the Lord…despite your circumstances.