I was in the Dining Commons the other day when I overheard one person ask another, “Did you enjoy your meal?” The phrase struck me weird, and I thought about it.
We can like something without enjoying it. Food can taste good, and we can fail to enjoy it. We can spend time with our friends, and not enjoy it. We can walk outside on a gorgeous sunny day… and not enjoy it. In this context, our good friends Merriam and Webster define “enjoy” thus:
enjoy en·joy (verb) \in-ˈjȯi\ To take pleasure or satisfaction in.
It is possible to be in a thoroughly enjoyable situation and not enjoy it. I do this all the time! I’ll be with some of the most awesome people in the world, in a nice warm heated room at a college where I’m learning to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid… and be completely apathetic.
A guy named Clive Staples Lewis wrote a handy book called The Screwtape Letters, fictitious letters of advice to a “junior tempter” named Wormwood from his uncle Screwtape, a more skilled tempter. It’s basically the Christian equivalent of the CIA intercepting a bunch of letters from the KGB giving advice on how to best trick Americans into losing the Cold War. Anyway, about halfway through letter 15, Screwtape gives Wormwood this advice:
We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every gift which is offered them in the present.
Screwtape ends the letter, “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?”
I realized that I do this. A lot. I live in the future, worrying and paying interest on trouble before it comes due (in the words of W.R. Inge), but also very much heaping the altar of the future with every gift offered me in the present. I’m always thinking that God’s “preparing me for this” or “getting me ready” for that… never realizing that amid all the preparation, I could also be enjoying the experience that’s “preparing” me.
I know tons of quotes about this idea, like the scene from The Music Machine where Mister Pims freaks out because his henchmen, rather than stealing the Music Machine, are “dancing! And enjoying it!” Or the expression that ends “Today is a gift; that’s why it’s called “The Present.” Or the one on Ree Enlow’s refrigerator… And yet I still so often live in the future, singing the question part of Que Sera, Sera: “Will I be handsome, will I be rich? Blah-blah blah blah, blah blah…”
Maybe this is what James was talking about in James 1:2 when he told his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” Maybe he wasn’t psychotic after all (let’s be honest, if we saw somebody suffering and having a celebration over it, we’d have to call ’em a masochist!). Maybe the clue is in verse 3 where he says “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” We’re told to enjoy suffering because of what we know it’s doing in us, not because suffering is in itself awesome.
In I Timothy 6:17, the apostle Paul tells his disciple Timothy,
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [Emphasis mine]
What if “all things” here doesn’t just mean the things that we would normally enjoy? What if it does in fact really and truly mean “all things?” Even fleas in a Nazi concentration camp? (Not something I’d want to try to enjoy). What if the world is filled with billions of things and people to enjoy? What if, in Gerald Hopkins’ words, “Christ plays in ten thousand places”? What if God filled the universe with love and we walk through it with all the disinterest of a blind man in an art museum, able to see all its wonders as easily as our blind man can see Van Gogh’s masterpieces?
Enjoyment is a choice. Enjoyment is not determined by the views we see, the taste or quality of the food we eat, the quality of the songs we listen to or sing, or the nature of our companions. It is determined by our simple choice of whether to enjoy them. To counter Screwtape’s comment, “Why shouldn’t the creature be happy?”