Lewis wrote a lot about joy. But he meant something different than the word’s usual connotations. Rather than a feeling of happiness or elation, he meant that bittersweet experience of longing for something just beyond our reach. He identified it as the central story of his life. In one of his most content-packed sentences, he defined joy as “an unsatisfied desire, which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.”1
You might want to read that sentence again. It’s dense. But for me, it resonates as one of the most helpful statements I’ve ever heard.
Lewis put into words the feeling I had experienced at the end of every concert, after seeing a beautiful sunset, or while watching the credits at the end of great movie. In fact, Lewis confirmed I was not alone in my experience. In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” he explained more about this sense of longing: “We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light.”2
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis recounted his earliest memory of this unsatisfied desire when seeing something beautiful. His brother, Warnie, had made a replica of their garden on top of a biscuit tin and brought it inside to show off. Lewis remembered, “That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did.”3 In another place, he remembered an encounter of beauty mixed with deep longing after hearing a piece of music by Wagner.4
Do you identify with this? Can you remember catching a glimpse of beauty or hearing a moment of music or encountering a display of the ineffable that left you with an ache of longing? Despite the disappointment, do you still treasure that experience? And do you hope to relive it again and again?
Next page »