During the first week of 2014, God surprised me with two words that exploded like fireworks in my heart, mind and soul. Six weeks later they continue to throw off sparks.
The first word picture conjured up by these words is that of a wild horse galloping across the prairie, tail and mane flying in the breeze, muscles rippling beneath the skin.
Synonyms: unrestrained, abandoned, intemperate, raw, runaway, unbounded, rampant, unchecked, uncontrolled, unhampered, unhindered, unrestrained, hog wild, uninhibited, wild.
Antonyms: bridled, checked, constrained, controlled, curbed, governed, hampered, hindered, restrained, temperate.
I ask myself, when have I experienced unrestrained, uninhibited joy? When have I gone hog wild with joy?
The answer comes quickly. Wild, bubbling and effervescent joy fizzed over—like a champagne bottle that’s been shaken and popped—the moment each one of my newborn sons were handed to me as I lay on the birthing table. Who would have thought that kind of pain (I went natural with all three of my boys) could be replaced so quickly with such runaway joy? I think of John 16:21: “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.”
As I sit and meditate on the joy that comes after the pain of childbirth, I wonder if unbridled joy always involves being loosed into the light from some kind of darkness.
Several examples spring to mind:
Winter turning to spring: I think of the joy that rises up when I smell that first hint of spring on the breeze after a long, hard winter; when I wake up from a brown, drab land to a Technicolor riot of yellow forsythia outside my bedroom window; when the weeping cherries bloom, dripping petals on the grass like a bride on her way to the altar. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it perfectly in his poem, “God’s Grandeur”: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God/ It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” I remember Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” I whine a lot in February, but in March and April (whenever spring decides to make her grand entrance) I experience unrestrained, unbridled joy every time I walk out the door.
Sickness to health: I think of how I take good health for granted, until I get really sick. I’m just recovering from a three week bout of the flu. Yesterday, when I began to feel like a human being again, joy gushed up from deep within. Yes! There is so much to be grateful for in simply waking up alive and well! Unbridled joy at what just three weeks ago seemed to be mundane and humdrum life-as-usual.
How often unbridled joy is birthed in the crucible of darkness and pain:
A prisoner set free after years in prison.
A lost child, found.
A mentally ill parent, healed.
The sun shining after weeks of rain.
Soft rain falling after months of drought.
And of course, the biggest source of unbridled joy the world has ever known—the empty tomb—our Lord resurrected from the dead!
And what is resurrection but a daily act of choosing to open our eyes to God’s glory shining, like shook foil, all around us.
Throw open the curtains! Open the windows! Ditch the coats and boots! Hang the rules! It’s time to have a party!
Unbridled joy. My word for the year.