My 5-year-old is an expert on joy. When he tells you a story, his whole body dances as he tries to get the words out fast enough. When he discovers he’s having pancakes for breakfast, he throws his hands up in the air and whoops as if his favorite team just scored a touchdown. “Yay! Pancaaaakes!” And when he hears his daddy getting home from work he races to the front door like a puppy greeting his master. “Daddy’s home!”
Pope Francis is an expert on joy, too. We see him in the news, unable to control his laughter when he sees a baby dressed up as pope. Or when the winds of Rome blow his cap and mantle off, he giggles and gives in to the wind. He embraces that moment, as if the wind is an old friend who just pulled off a hilarious practical joke. Through his example the Pope shows us how to let go.
In Pope Francis’ Joy Of the Gospel he warns us against being “sourpusses” and sheds light onto the joy that radiates from him. “Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9).”(Evangelii Gaudium, p 85.) He tells us the key is trust.
I’d like to move through the world with this much abandon. This joy. I’m a happy person. I’m positive. I laugh. I smile. Yet, I notice those moments when I am a little reckless with my enthusiasm, when I cackle at a friend’s remark or squeal when I see a bald eagle, how I catch myself, I reign myself in. I notice others are taken back too. You can be happy but not too happy, not joyful. Are we frightened by joy?
So I’ve begun to take notice of those moments when I am joyful. I notice that I am present, in the moment. I am relishing in the delight or absurdity of life, instead of figuring out how I can fix it or thinking about the rest of my to-do list. I am not worried about the past or the future. I am just enjoying now. I am trusting in God and His plan for me. When I catch my groove in that space of time and outlook, I find I can ride it like a wave for a while. When I think I have things under control, that’s when joy escapes me. I think it’s called surrender. The French priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once wrote “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God”. I have to agree with him. Joy is a sacred gift. St Paul tells us that joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us (Galatians 5:22). Joy comes from trust.
There is a sense of surrender in Joy that is different than its lesser, tamer cousin, happiness. Joy, that next level of happiness, is when we let go, when we surrender to God. We trust. This is where we find ourselves frightened. This is often when we pull back, we try to grab the controls again…because we can’t be too happy, that’s scary. It’s scary not to be in control.
I see myself in St Peter so often. When he sees Christ walking on the water, he cries out “If that’s you, tell me to come out onto the water” Christ says to him “Come”. Peter is enthusiastic, he is ready to surrender to Christ. He begins to walk out on the water but then he sees the wind, becomes afraid wanting to gain control and starts to sink. Christ catches him by the hand saying “you of little faith”. What I hear in Christ’s words is “don’t you trust that I love you?”
My 5-year-old and Pope Francis have something in common: They know they are loved. Pope Francis trusts that he is loved and cared for by his spiritual Father. My son knows he’s loved by his earthly parents. They believe and trust that they are loved, surrendering themselves until it becomes joy. And me? I’m going to let myself enjoy those moments when I delight in life. Those moments are when God is showing me He is there, present, loving me. If I surrender, I won’t sink, I’ll soar.