Joy In A Child’s Laughter

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. It’s kind of hard to find these days. Where does joy come from? What is it? Can we make joy happen, or does it just come to us, like grace. If it’s like grace, can we make ourselves more open to receive it? Whatever the answers, they’re worth asking in these joyless of days in which we find ourselves.

C. S. Lewis found himself “surprised by joy,” early on in life. He wrote a whole marvelous book about that surprise. It was a small moment in time when the surprise happened, but it lingered, as if nothing else mattered as much, for the rest of his life. When we experience that surprise of joy, often as children, it can indeed take hold of us. It creates in us a desire to return to the source of joy, wherever it might lead. Think about it: We all long to return to the surprise of joy, don’t we?

Children often experience joy unfiltered. It’s beautiful to witness. You can see it when their eyes light up. You can hear it in spontaneous laughter. It’s a special delight. It’s contagious. They just seem to have the ability to open to the delight of the world. They embrace it. They don’t have to think about it. They don’t have to put it into the context of all the grief of the world, though their little worlds too have monsters under the bed. But they are so wonderfully ready to accept joy, to welcome it. It’s a joy to see.

I remember the very day when our two older boys, Mark and Michael, the twins, were going to learn how to ride their shiny new bikes. Their younger brother Todd was too young, though he too was caught up in the excitement of the day, a bit resentful it wasn’t yet his turn. The trainer wheels had come off. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the Northwest. The training grounds would be our front lawn, at least to begin with, providing softer landings. And so we prepared a delightful breakfast, the parents pumped with coffee, the kids jittery with expectation, and we stepped out into the early sun that slanted through the trees.

I remember especially Michael as he mounted that awesome contraption. He timidly surrendered his feet from the ground, took hold of the handle bars, accepted the launch, and headed straight for a tree. He hit it head-on, sending him sprawling. We scrambled for an examination, but he was determined, as kids can be, and grabbed hold of the bike and mounted once again. As he headed out across the lawn again, he almost collided with his brother Mark, who also swooped about the yard on his own journey of ecstasy.

What I remember most, and will never forget, was the spontaneous laughter that came from Mike. It was as if he could not contain himself. He chuckled, then laughed, utterly taken by his delight. This was sheer joy. It was the laughter that came from someplace deep. He was joyous I am sure because he had accomplished something hard, but I swear that’s an adult projection. Mike’s joy came from someplace deeper. It was the joy of riding with abandon, of being lifted off his feet and onto something that propelled him into a new world. It was the muscular joy of letting go, and yet it was heart-joy, soul-shaping joy of finding something wholly new.

I have become convinced these are the moments that enter us deeply. They often come early in our lives and never leave us. We sense they point somewhere beyond the moment, deeply within the moment, but not confined by the ordinary circumstances. It points to another realm. For Lewis, and for me, this joy ultimately points to the presence of a loving God, residing there, waiting for us, inviting us into joy. That’s the deepest yearning we will ever have. The surprise of joy plants a longing that will never go away.

Might it be worth asking, in our weary day, if staying open to the sheer surprise of joy is not an answer to so many of our problems. Michael’s laughter on that day entered me deeply, stayed with me, shaped a part of my soul. The task is to learn delight from our children. The task is to watch and wait and listen for joy to crop out of the little moments. Yes, indeed, looking back now, Michael’s laughter gave me that longing for which I have never been the same.