It cannot be easily manufactured, like entertainment can be. It’s more elusive than levity or amusement. It runs deeper than pleasure. And where mirth is a sort of self-forgetfulness, joy involves something like the opposite: fullness of presence and mindfulness. Many successful comedians can tell you how they’ve gone through long periods of frequent laughter but little joy. And most of us know that person who seems to have accessed some bottomless well of joy, regardless of what troubles occur in their lives.
In my experience, joy always involves meaningful relationship with others in some way. This is true even of the individual pursuits that bring me joy. I find joy in gardening, because it reminds me of my mother and my grandmother. Going on a hike alone gives me time to reflect on the relationships and experiences that matter most to me. Joy is never solitary, even if I am. Maybe that’s one reason why it can’t be manufactured.
At the end of a long work week, I tend to seek out levity, entertainment, distraction. The activities that promise these things tend to require little forethought. They tend to be easy come, easy go. That’s what appeals to me about them when I’m over worked. The flipside, of course, is that they have almost no lasting effect on me. They leave me no better than they found me. As a person who is trying to live faithfully, I experience a big difference between finding genuine Sabbath restfulness on the weekend and simply collapsing from exhaustion.
It takes almost no investment of energy to plan a weekend of Netflix, frozen pizza, and mindless social media scanning, compared to the energy it takes to seek out a group of friends, figure out a place and time to meet them, and make real conversation when we get there. So for a tired introvert, there is no comparison, which alternative is more attractive on the front end. But the feeling I get after a Netflix marathon is as far away from joy as Busch Light is from a wee heavy Scotch ale.
The term “recreation” (re-creation) probably came into popular usage around the 13th century, somewhere between Latin and modern day French. Back then, the term carried a much stronger weight than mindless entertainment (because there wasn’t a whole lot of mindless entertainment back then). It probably meant, much more literally than it does today: to make new, to make alive, or to make vital again.
It’s actually deeply spiritual, biblical even, to be “working for the weekend,” with the caveat—which the band, Loverboy, failed to mention—that the weekend is spent genuinely re-creating and resting as opposed to going comatose.
When I spend my weekend watching Netflix and eating frozen pizzas, I can say that I’ve been entertained, I’ve eased off, I’ve reposed, but I don’t think that I can say I’ve been made alive or made new in any significant way.
On the front end, it takes more energy and planning to gather a group of real (as opposed to digital) friends together, to commit to a time and place, and to actually contribute something to a conversation (as opposed to just consuming the script of a TV writer). But on the back end, there is an incomparably bigger payoff in terms of the re-creation of my soul. The laughter is shared laughter, as opposed to the one directional guffaws that I might direct at Kimmy Schmidt on a screen. The experiences leave a lasting impression, rather than just leading right into the countdown to the next episode.
When we’re actually with the people whom we care about, we sometimes say that we’re “creating memories.” It might be more challenging to actually make time for them than it is to just keep up with their Instagram feed. But, then, no one ever refers to their time scanning an Instagram feed as time spent “creating memories.” It’s like we know, subconsciously, in the way that we use language, that certain pastimes are not so re-creational.
The challenge we’re taking on at Castle Church is the challenge of facilitating real connectedness in our community—of creating a “third place” where meaningful relationships happen. For nearly all of recorded history, wherever there was great beer, people would gather and get to know each other better. Where people get together, free of other demands and distractions, they have an uncanny ability to start re-creating.
And that almost always results in joy.