Surprised by Joy
Up until I discovered the insane high that writing gives me, singing was my first love. I’ve sung since I was very young, mostly in church and school, and a few weddings here and there. For a long time, being a singer, leading worship etc. was my identity. It was my purpose and it was what spoke to me about my value. My husband and I, at one point in time, planned to make it big with our band named “Five Star Lady.” Instead of fulfilling my dreams of rock stardom, I got to fulfill my even bigger dream of becoming a mom, and it was the best thing I ever did.
A few years ago, my identity as a singer was challenged and it took me a very long time to to recognize what the Lord was doing in me. Eventually I saw that He was showing me that my identity has absolutely nothing to do with what I do, but everything to do with who I am, and suddenly, being on a stage with a microphone was the least important thing to me in the world. After 29 years of living that life, it was a hard shift to make at first, but when I turned from that false identity, I had zero desire to ever indulge it again. That doesn’t mean I don’t sing anymore, it just means that I don’t need to sing. The desire to be acknowledged for my talent does not define me anymore, and I do not feel pressured to be involved in every worship-leading opportunity that presents itself, and sometimes have no desire for it at all.
But. There is still something extremely powerful that happens to me when I hear good music — even when it’s not Christian music. I feel a stirring in my soul and goosebumps raise on my arms, tears flood my vision and I feel like I am about the closest to heaven that I’ve ever been. I used to think that feeling was about my singing. But now I’ve learned it’s something different, entirely. I’ve told my husband numerous times that I feel like, even though singing is not that important to me anymore, music is part of my DNA. I told him that I don’t think I could survive without music. He looked at me like I was crazy. Ha ha.
Then I read the following quote on fellow author/blogger Mike Duran’s blog, from CS Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, and I finally understood what I was feeling:
It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? . . . Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison. The second glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books . . . it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, ‘in another dimension’ . . . [it was] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy . . . anyone who has experienced it will want it again . . . I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.
(C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955, 16-18)
Lewis was describing his experience of sehnsucht. The word is German and means “longing,” but is almost impossible to translate. It has to do with “desire” and “nostalgia” of the deepest kind. Lewis describes sehnsucht as an “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.” –Mike Duran
This explains what I experience to a T. I have come to realize that while singing is still beautiful and wonderful and something I enjoy, I don’t need to be the one with the microphone in my hand. I only need to be in the room. I only need to be in tune with the melodies, absorbing the lyrics, to engage this longing. I simply need to experience the music, not be the one making it, and this realization has brought so much release and joy to my spirit.
What stirs your own sense of sehnsucht? What experiences or activities leave you breathless with joy. What things have you mistaken your identity for in your own life?