It usually takes about five or six days. When one of my wife or I am traveling, this tends to be the threshold beyond which I start to feel strangely disoriented or unsettled or somehow, I don’t know, adrift. When I am the one at home—as is the case now, while my wife visits friends in Germany—this tends to be around the time when the kids have begun to peer dejectedly into the refrigerator, sadly pondering the prospects of another evening of dad’s “cooking.” The pets have started to wander around the house full of confused longing, being generally accustomed to warmer treatment than they tend to receive from me. It’s as if the entire house senses that things are not as they should be.
I need my wife for many reasons and in countless ways. Among them, is the fact that she is relentlessly optimistic. If I can (occasionally, quite rarely, really, and probably unjustly) be accused of being the Eeyore in our house, then she is Tigger, bouncing around full of enthusiasm, volume, and joy. She often tells me that I need to write about less gloomy things. “Yes, there are always bad things happening, yes the world can be a sad and sorrowful place, yes uncertainty looms around countless corners of our lives. But, it’s Friday. So be happy.” I can imagine her saying something like that.
And speaking of joy… My wife and I often talk about whether or not one can just decide upon a disposition. Can a person really just wake up in the morning and choose to be happy today? Can one’s emotional temperature be regulated by an act of the will? Is this even possible? Does this not amount to a head-in-the-sand, fingers-in-the-ears cheeriness obtained only at the expense of closing one’s eyes to the world?
Perhaps. Or, perhaps my wife is quite a bit smarter and wiser than me. Which is rather more likely, I think.
Today I came across an interview with one of my favourite writers, Christian Wiman (h/t: Richard Beck at Experimental Theology). In it, he discusses this business of “choosing joy” and how this might, in the end, be the most important task of the life of faith. Might, indeed, be what faith is:
Can one really just decide to be more joyful, though? One aspect of joy is the suspension of will—the obliteration of will, really—though probably there is an element of discipline in being prepared for joy, just as there is in being prepared for poetry. “Iridescent readiness,” W. S. Di Piero calls it. And there are these lines from Richard Wilbur:
Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you will perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.
The thing is, we are always going to feel God’s absence more than his presence. We are always going to feel the imprint and onslaught of necessity, which is the crucifixion, more than we feel the release and freedom of pure joy, which is the resurrection. The first we experience; the second, even when it emerges out of experience, we believe. In that tiny gap of grammar is an abyss of difference. Suffering we know and share intimately with Christ (it’s how we bear it). Faith and hope are always imaginative—that is to say, projective—acts: “Tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”
What you project is what you will perceive. And it takes on powers of its own. Wow.
I love how Wiman describes the life of faith and hope. It is always imaginative. It is a projective act. It is a thousand little daily decisions of determined joy, hurled out into the void, out into an unknown future, in anticipation that they will be welcomed there. Indeed, that there is a deep joy that will be waiting to receive them there and which summons them forth. Yes, this is what it means to have faith, to be a person of hope. It is to be “imaginative” in precisely this way.
So be happier, Ryan. That’s what my wife would say. And she would be wonderfully, theologically insightfully, and utterly predictably right.