My grandmother has a sign on her wall that reads, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” French philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said these words. He lived from 1881 to 1955, which means he endured two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Spanish flu epidemic.
When I read that sign I always thought, “Whoever said that must have had an easy life.” I pictured joy like a party with glasses clinking and people laughing. But the events of the last year in humanity’s history have given me a deeper understanding. Pierre is not talking about the joy of perfection but the joy that comes into our hard places and broken hearts.
This weekend it snowed where I live—fat, fluffy flakes that fell for hours. This hasn’t happened in years and it felt magical. When my husband and I ventured out we discovered families in the neighborhood had gathered to go sledding down a big hill. There was social distancing and all the necessary things, but for a moment life felt normal. More than normal, it felt magical.
We all forgot for a few moments about news headlines, politics, and the pandemic. We were children again, remembering what came before 2020 and looking with anticipation toward what might come after. We were, as C.S. Lewis said, surprised by joy.
I struggle with anxiety and depression so joy isn’t always something I feel. It’s something I choose to believe is real. And I don’t know if joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. Some of the times I’ve felt God nearest have actually been in moments of despair. But I do think joy is one sign.
I’m learning joy isn’t something we’re supposed to force or fake. Instead it’s something that finds us—often in the most unexpected places. I’ve known joy in hospital rooms just as surely as on hills during a snowy day. Wherever it comes to us, joy is the whisper of God saying, “Hold on, I’m still here.” Yes, even in this crazy year.
When have you been surprised by joy?
Cheering You On,
This week on the More than Small Talk podcast we’re continuing our Advent series with a conversation about “The Joy of Being Known.”
If you want a gift to bring joy to those in your life during this hard season, my devotional, What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days is on sale.