“The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.” Blaise Pascal
I love a cogent argument, I’m persuaded by a beautiful line of reasoning, but I know, as poet Denise Levertov writes, that reason was meant “for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.”
One of the fallacies melancholy tricks us with is the need to argue our way into joy; or put conversely, that we can reason our way out of joylessness. It’s rooted in our Western mind’s utter conviction in the power of reason to solve all things.
Here’s the default strategy many go to when they find themselves unhappy for any length of time: “Why am I feeling this way? If I can just figure out why I’m unhappy, if I can find a reason for this melancholy, then I’ll be able to move toward joy.” We figure not knowing why we are unhappy is an all-important barrier that must be overcome through logically picking apart all the reasons for why I am unhappy.
This is just stupid and here’s why. First of all, by teasing out all the reasons for being gloomy you’re keeping your gaze squarely on why you’re so unhappy; you’re simply rehearsing a story line of sorrow. And we know how that cheery line of thinking brightens everyone’s day. When I focus only on all that’s wrong I miss seeing the larger context in which my sorrows are set.
Another problem with this strategy is the way it turns me into a victim. Very often part of the motivation to find a reason for our joylessness is to find someone or something to point the finger at. It is, mostly, a casting off of responsibility for experiencing joy in life. If I can find some reason – that I was born in the shallow end of the gene pool, that my second grade teacher ignored me, that my first love broke my heart, that I have bad teeth or male pattern baldness or even genuinely tragic reasons – then I have something or someone to pin the blame of my lack of joy on, I now have a rationale for joylessness. I’m now free to stay stuck there because I’ve built a well-reasoned case for unhappiness. Remaining a victim of a sad story line will never produce a lasting joy in my life.
Which is connected to one more problem with this flawed strategy for finding joy – you experience what you fill your heart with. Here’s the thing about the human heart – it needs something to dwell on, someone to give its primary attention and affection. And if I’m only feeding my heart all the reasons that confirm why I’m not joyful, if I’m simply rehearsing the logic for why sadness is more real than joy, than you can safely predict the inclinations of my heart. Truth is, I will know and experience joy when my heart has a new affection, something greater than all the reasons for why I might find myself unhappy.
Which is what the Christian faith says we have in spades! The gospel is the logic of joy because of the good news that God, moved by love for me, has entered this bent and broken world so I might know his wholeness; he was the man of sorrows so I might know his joy.
Instead of trying to figure out why you struggle to know joy, give yourself over to the foolish logic of the gospel. Let the gospel story line and the beauty of God’s grace ravish your heart and watch joy percolate inside of you.