The Pain and the Promise of “Further up and further in”

image“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”

―C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

A while back I had a close friend tell me that she missed the joys of her youth. She missed the joys of “care free” days and wished she could go back. She said flatly, “Now, the world just stinks.”

I thought about what she said for a while and I think I would have to disagree. I do indeed long for joys gone by. But I also I long for the joys that are going by right now – the joys that are right in front of me. It would be better, I think, if the world really did completely stink – but the almost cruel truth is that it doesn’t. In fact, there are so many momentary joys in life – joys that are tremendously wonderful and beautiful and true and good – joys that we take for granted – that are moving past us right this moment, evaporating like smoke before our very eyes. And as these moments pass us, they leave behind an overwhelming dark sorrow. A whispering sort of sorrow that says, “This joy is leaving you and there is nothing you can do to keep it.” Childhood friends move away. We grow into adulthood and take on responsibilities. Children grow old and leave our homes. Our parents die. Our bodies breakdown. Culture changes and becomes awkward for those who grew up in another time. We sense that this is happening to us right now – that moments of joy are passing us – and desperately we try to grab hold, but to no avail. Despite our best efforts, these joys slip through our fingers and drift away. Our soul laments. We long to return to those joys. To go back to that moment of laughter. To go back to the “good old days.” To go back to that fleeting glimpse of mirth. But, the sun sets. The day ends. This present joy is quickly swallowed up in memory.

Unfortunately, this passing of joys, is what so often fuels our idolatry. This longing can often undermine our faith. The whispering of passing joys. coupled with impending sorrow, shows no mercy. The shadows speak again. “You will never get this back,” they mock. “This moment of joy has been your last.” And this fear seals our grief. We are filled with anger. Sadness. Isolation. Hardness settles in. We devise a plan to never love again. We will not risk our hearts. We make a decision to close ourselves off. To fortify ourselves. We shut ourselves down. Seal ourselves up. The pain of lost love – lost joy – is too painful. And so we decide that it is better to have never loved at all. We promise ourselves that we will never hurt this way again. This is the way of most men and women.

Yet, for a few – for a precious few whose hope rests fully in Christ, there is a different voice. A gentle voice that whispers “Follow Me.” And this is the voice that must prevail in us. We have to believe. We have to trust. We have to hope… that the way to go back to those lost moments of joy is found, not in going back, but in moving forward – “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis would say. We have to believe that the small windows of joy that we experienced in more tender days – those wonderful moments of mirth – were really clues of a greater joy that lies ahead. We must believe that we are not losing anything, but we are gaining more joy than we could have ever hoped to have. The sun is not truly setting at all. The long shadows in front of us will often blind the eye of reason, so we must see through the eye of faith instead.  And for those who have been captured by the Gospel, for those who follow the song of Christ – we journey forward to take these unsure steps into the dark unknown… with nothing but the Gentle Shepherd’s voice that softly calls us on. “Joy will come, Tim. Joy will come. Come further up and further in. Believe… and follow me.”

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