'Simple Joy' (Taken on the roadside in Phnom Penh, Sunday 3rd February, 2013) (C) Malcolm J. Duncan.
Joy is a funny thing.
Joy is a funny thing. We so often mistake if for happiness or a light, Cheshire - cat like grin pasted on our faces when people ask us how we are and we want to make sure they think we are okay. We can undervalue its meaning and miss its purpose.
Actually biblical joy is much more akin to the idea of exuberance for life or irrepresible hope or tenacious determination to live or something like that. Its so much deeper- and so much more powerful than just happy. I had been thinking about that a little last Sunday when I was ministering in the morning to the congregation at Living Hope in Christ Church in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, my host, Pastor Barnabas Mamm (Read his book, 'Church Behind the Wire' if you haven't done so already - it is the story of faith in the worst of circumstances) was driving me to a place on the egde of the city where the ministry he is involved in hopes to build a new discipleship centre. On the way, we passed these two boys on the road - and they captured what I meant about 'joy'!
Look at their faces. We stopped and I got talking to the boys a little. The plastic 'hat' on the younger one's head is plastic saucepan. Here were two kids walking along a dirty, dusty road in their bare feet. No shoes to protect them from dangerous glass, snakes or anything else. The neighbourhood was one of the poorest in the city. They had so little - but look at their faces - joy! An exuberant approach to life. They were naturally - not deliberately or academically - enjoying being alive. After I took the photo I showed it them and they laughed and giggled and pointed hilariously (children always do that with photos, don't they) and then our ways parted. They taught me 'joy'. I went back to my schedule and they went on with their day.
Yet these two young boys left an imprint on my heart. Their young, hopeful, life-brimming eyes looked into my soul and left me wondering what has happened to childhood in the UK? When I was a boy, I could easily spend hours playing with a bit of paper and a pen, or an old tennis ball pushed into the bottom of a long sock. Life was there to live and no matter what happened, I had (I think I still do to some extent) an irrepressible optimism. Some pretty bad stuff happened to me when I was a kid - but none of it stole my 'joy'.
When my own children were young, they loved the paper wrapping at Christmas more than the presents, so did yours, no doubt...
So why do we, when we become older, allow this exuberance for life to be taken away, dissolved? Is it cynicism, realism, negativity, life? Or is it we fail to look at the world through the eyes of a child.
As I drove away from the boys, I remembered Jesus words that if we want to enter the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Life, we have to become like little children again.
I think I understand why.