The most appropriate response to life is joy. I don’t say that lightly, as though I’m referring to the common kind of fake happiness, which pretends everything is fine even when it isn’t. I’m referring to an overwhelming swell of vigor and appreciation, merged together and saturated with love. It’s a hard thing to describe, but if you’ve ever felt it, you know what I mean.
I felt it when I first saw my daughter.
It’s not the sort of thing I feel all the time, or even frequently. In fact, my brain has a flaw in it of some mysterious sort. The street name for it is clinical depression, but doctors will tell you that they’re not really sure what causes it, and they’re not really sure how to treat it. All of that is incidental, though; my point is this: my usual response to life isn’t joy. My natural inclination is to react to life with something in-between fatigue and complacency, united by a sort of lazy grumpiness.
So what am I talking about? What’s all this “appropriate response” business?
Before I get there, let me tell you another story.
I’m afraid of some ridiculous things; I can admit that. I have to admit it because it’s crucial to the narrative. However, there’s a difference between rational and irrational fears. For example, my fear of handguns is perfectly rational: I understand them and the damage they can produce, so I’m afraid of them. Contrariwise, my fear of mushrooms is entirely irrational: mushrooms make me panic even though I know that they’re not willfully trying to attack me with their insidious spores.
I also have some fears that are both rational and irrational, like my fear of global climate change. I know about its likely effects, and thus I would greatly prefer that humanity work to stop it. At the same time, whenever I think about it I can’t help being afraid that my daughter is going to die horribly, as though the Earth might combust like a match head.
The daughter image is particularly important. Being depressed, I’m less concerned about horrible things that might happen to me. I can resign myself to anything because my brain has resignation to spare. But my daughter…. I had never known fear until I met her; I’m desperate to protect her but helpless against so many things. Fatherhood is stressful business.
Recently I read something about super-volcanoes. Rationally, I was a bit alarmed by the possibility of a super-volcano erupting in my life-time. I didn’t start building a bomb-shelter or anything, I just thought about how much I would rather that not happen. Then the irrational fears kicked in and started to snowball as my mind visited every conceivable combination of catastrophes. I imagined the super-volcano acting like a thruster for the starship of our planet and disrupting our orbit enough that we fell into the sun. Also, because these two seemed to go together, I imagined that the planet might stop rotating, so that one side of it would drastically overheat. Cue the match head image again in both cases, and the sound of my daughter crying while I’m impotent to save her.
This happened just a couple of days after my wife and I had our first serious discussion about adding further kids to our little family unit. Suddenly I was thinking about other children crying; little voices calling out to me in distress, not understanding that I couldn’t help them. I started feeling that we had cursed our daughter with existence, and that we shouldn’t curse any other children the same way.
Now, as I mentioned before, I’m clinically depressed. I can find the downside of any upshot, the cloud for every silver lining. I can keep happy thoughts from letting children fly; I can make a spoonful of sugar taste like medicine. It’s not much of a leap for me to start thinking of life as a curse. Add some fear to that, and you can craft a pretty chilling recipe for despondency.
But then there was Easter.
Jesus was an innocent man. Not just innocent in the sense that he hadn’t done anything illegal, but innocent in the sense that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Ever. To anyone. Yet he was betrayed, abandoned, humiliated, tortured, and killed. Even worse, he knew it was coming, so he had the opportunity to dread it. If there were ever a person entitled to despondency, it was Jesus. If there was ever a person entitled to call life a curse, it was Jesus.
But then there was Easter.
All the pain, the loss, the horror, and the cruelty were done. They were ended. But life wasn’t. Jesus was raised from the dead; his life is everlasting.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, that’s the life offered to all of us. When I saw my daughter being born, that’s the life I saw: a small and precious girl designed to live, to be raised with Christ into a world without suffering or fear, and to stay there forever.
Even if all of my spectacular and unreasonable fears were guaranteed to be fulfilled–if I knew for certain that I would get shot in a patch of mushrooms while hearing my children scream because the earth was falling into the sun–the most appropriate response I could have to my life would be joy, because my life wouldn’t be over. Only the fear would be, because of Easter.
Christ died, but Christ is risen and will come again to bring that life to those who believe in him.
Sure, tomorrow I’m going to wake up depressed. I’ll probably be afraid of some silly things too. I can assure you that the father in me is probably going to spend a lot of time worrying about his daughter, and frustrated because there are things from which he can’t protect her. Still, because of Easter I can hope; I can be thankful; I can laugh. (Easter is the only reason I can have this blog.)
As George Herbert once wrote:
“Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise….”