Many throughout history have sought to make the Christian life as joyless as possible.
Even John Wesley, my hero in the faith, did not approve much of merriment. He once complained that conversations with the famous preacher George Whitefield were “often mixed with needless laughter.” Wesley was a genius, but he wasn’t right about everything, and he wasn’t right about this.
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James told about a French priest who had decided that in order to be pious he must never smell a flower, never drink when thirsty, never shoo away a fly, never show disgust before a repugnant object, never complain of anything that had to do with his personal comfort, never sit down, and never lean upon his elbows when kneeling.
Can imagine equating this with holiness? “I can prove I’m pious. Look at the flies all around me.”
St. John of the Cross told Christians to “mortify all joy and hope…to turn not to what pleases, but to what disgusts…to despise yourself and wish that others despise you.” Similarly, St. Bernard used to cover his eyes in order to avoid the beauty of Swiss lakes.
H.L. Mencken described a Puritan as a person with a haunting fear that someone, somewhere is happy. Today many people would say the same about conservative Christians. This is too bad, because we don’t find anything in the Bible, especially in the gospels, to support this way of thinking.
William James wrote about the priest too pious to smell a flower, but Jesus said…
See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29)
John Wesley rebuked pastors for being too willing to “break into jest”, but Solomon, the wisest man to walk this earth, said…“A joyful heart is good medicine,” and “A glad heart makes a cheerful face…”
And Jesus said to his followers, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
Are you enjoying life? Basking in the beauty of God’s creation? Bursting into laughter with friends? Giving way to merriment every now and then? If not, take a moment today to lighten up. Let your joy be full.