I woke up early this morning because I was feeling fat.
Not because of the beauty of the slightly misty morning, not because it would be an amazing experience to stride along with my sister to the garage and talk together about Life, not because of the example of the disciplined dogwalkers also up early. Although all of these things did happen along the way, they were merely an intriguing byproduct of the knowledge that my goal of lost weight hasn't been reached. (The budget doesn't cover new clothes.)
Sometimes, people's lives are completely changed because they're out of work and need a new car, so they begin some garage business and make a fortune in the next 15 years. All adulation and glory when you reach the finish line, a lot of tears and heartaches and late nights up trying not to worry until that happens. Or, someone finally hears the gospel call because it is previewed by the very real threat of hellish death. Talk about a trailer for a film that no one wants to see!
C.S. Lewis wrote, at the end of "Surprised by Joy", that joy itself is a byproduct - when he searched for it, it eluded him and frustrated him. He would see it, run after it to grasp it, and joy would melt out of his hands like the morning sun - burning his fingers along the way. When he plodded after pursuing the very real person of Christ, joy did come - but intermittently, along the road toward eternity. (I'm listening to U2's song "Beautiful Day" as I write - the line "After the Flood, all the colours came out" is particularly appropriate here.) If you haven't seen the film "The Road", it's a beauty-out-of-ashes story of a man's love for his son; great relationships are like that, forged out of hardship and toil.
My sister and I have now spent three months together in Scotland. Because of all of the late nights and weeping sessions and prayer times and films laughed at together, we have a host of great memories and funny insider jokes. If we tried to shortcut the process and just skip past all of the times where our conversations went nowhere and feelings were hurt, there would be very shallow memories of no enduring depth. I call it the "Dust to Glory" sequence; man is born from dust, but God propels him to glory through the dust. If you fall into the snatching routine, as Satan tempted Jesus to do in the desert, and shortcut the process of birthing pangs of joy - you might gain the world for a time. But you will lose your own soul along the way.
The walk today was a great success - trees blooming in pink and white, dogs frisking around in deep green grass, random red rubber bands strewn along the walkway, large-eyed children staring up from prams. And mist to cover it all with an air of mystery. Every once in a while, the sun would break free of the clouds and shards of light would pierce the field, as if the Creator couldn't bear to shroud the living in gray any more. John Piper is right - "joy is that for which suffering is preparing us".
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