Friday, January 7, 2011

Surprised By Joy - and other things as well

"What were you doing when you experienced that joy that you now miss?", the counselor asked me quietly.

"Oh, nothing spectacular.  Usually I would just be taking a walk or something, and it would just sort of well up inside me. I would have this overwhelming sense of gratitude, and a conviction that I was at peace with God.  It was the most freeing thing, it felt almost like the expression "walking on air."

"And how long has it been since you have felt that way?" he inquired. 

With my head bowed and my shoulders hunched against the knowledge of the failure and despair I now felt in my life, I responded, "Several years now."

                                                  & & &

This exchange took place many years ago, during a time in my life when I had lost nearly everything I had ever cherished, and I did not see when, or if, I would ever be whole again, much less experience joy.

It was to be several years later before I read Surprised By Joy.  I had read The Chronicles of Narnia, then The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and several others by Lewis.  When I did finally read Joy, it was like coming home, to a place you only vaguely remembered, but knew that you had been searching for all along.

Lewis describes this "joy"as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." (17-18)

I could not help but smile when I read this, as it immediately reminded me of something my pastor used to say when I was a teenager.  He was an older minister serving in his final pastorate before he retired from full-time ministry.  He had a wonderful big smile, and sometimes he would get this truly joyous expression on his big, homely face and say, with great expression, "I'm satisfied with an unsatisfied satisfaction."

When I finally read Surprised By Joy, I understood what my old pastor had meant.  He was referring to the present soul-satisfaction of knowing God, but nevertheless being dissatisfied in the realization that we do not know him nearly well enough, all the while longing to know him better.  However, when we truly experience His Presence, we are, indeed, "surprised by joy."

Lewis's work influenced my life and my outlook in more ways than this brief homily can describe.  I had always been a "bookish" girl, much more comfortable alone in our little town library than in social gatherings.  My socially boisterous father did not approve.

Thus, when Lewis wrote, "What had been 'my' taste was apparently 'our' taste (if only I could ever meet the 'we' to whom that 'our' belonged.)"   (103) I thought, "Exactly!"

Then, of course, there is always the razor sharp wit and powers of observation that Lewis displays, that add to the readability of works which, while deeply intellectual, can be truly hilarious.  For example, when he describes his father's continual mangling of names and facts, it is with this brief anecdote:

"Tell him that a boy called Churchwood had caught a field  mouse and kept it as a pet, and a year, or ten years later, he would ask you, 'Did you ever hear what became of poor Chickweed who was so afraid of the rats?' "  (121)

Many of us have been driven to distraction by someone in our lives who displayed this kind of odd mental quirk.  And just reading it and having that "yes!" moment of recognition is comforting.  We are not crazy, or just imagining it, after all.

                                                & & &

Finally, having come from a religious tradition where it was expected that one would "always have the victory" and constantly be in a state of happy contentment in Christ, what a blessed relief it was to read his unvarnished account of his own gradual conversion, a process not an event, when he entered the kingdom, "perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England." (228-229)

Only in heaven, will we have any idea of how many hesitant, intellectually honest, but spiritually blind men and women have come to Christ partly because of this line alone.  & & &

Please visit the C.S. Lewis Book Club, hosted by D.J. Hughes at her blog,    God Bless You.


  1. "He was referring to the present soul-satisfaction of knowing God, but nevertheless being dissatisfied in the realization that we do not know him nearly well enough, all the while longing to know him better. However, when we truly experience His Presence, we are, indeed, 'surprised by joy.'"

    I love this.

    And, yes, Lewis's description of his father's antics are amusing at times, but also enlightening as we have all known folks who possess a similar bent.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of Lewis's selections. Thanks for joining me.

  2. I have to admit that I've not read this book but I did see the movie. Now I think I need to read the book. I was also a bookworm as a child. I would go to the public library every Saturday and check out piles of books. I loved to lie on my bed and read until my mom insisted I go outdoors. LOL

    As you already know, I've been going through a prolonged period of loss and much change. I am clinging to the Lord in the midst of uncertainty. I don't do well with change. But I've been learning to walk by faith, even when I don't know what the future holds.

    I've also had times of deep depression but then I remember who I belong to and that this isn't my permanent home. But I'm amazed at how easily happiness an turn to sadness when I allow my human emotions to take over.

    This walk of faith is a journey. My desire is to know Him better this year. Thank you for such a well written piece that causes me to want to read this book.

    Btw, I always appreciate your input on Heart Choices. For some reason, I'd been having trouble accessing you and Denise's blog. I'm glad I was able to visit this morning.

    Blessings and love,

  3. D.J. - I'm looking forward to re-reading some of Lewis's works, as I was surprised by how much I had forgotten, from when I read this one the first time.

    Debbie - I stopped by Heart Choices today and loved the picture of you on the slide with the kids.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful message above. I continue to remember you in prayer as you go through some "tough stuff." -Marsha Y.