I am a thrill seeker.
I enjoy pushing the envelope when it comes to a normal hobby. If the word “extreme” is in front of the activity, I am there! My family knows this about me which has caused some interesting conversations about safety such as the night I returned home from sailing in 14 foot waves on Lake Michigan. Some call it insane. I call it fun!
Due to this interest, my wife oftentimes builds my birthday present around something extreme: flight lesson, rock climbing, and recently skydiving. I always wanted to experience what it would be like to free fall out of a plane. It was an interesting desire considering I am afraid of heights. Did I mention that my thrill seeking is not always rational?
So, for my 40th birthday, my wife surprised me with a skydiving lesson from 14,000 feet. She chose the highest altitude permissible before you need an oxygen mask. Oh, she know me so well! On the day I jumped I was surprisingly calm. It was the next day when I woke up thinking “what did I do? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Many are shaking your head thinking, “That is very good question.”
Since it was my first time jumping, I was required to go tandem. My instructor was fantastic. He explained how the chute is packed. He got me hooked up. We took some photos. I told my family I loved them. Then, we boarded the plane. As we prepared to get on, they reminded the jumpers that once we step on the plane, you will be coming down in a parachute. They will not bring you back down. Ok, I thought, it is now or never. As we climbed higher in the sky, the view was beautiful. As we flattened out, the door opened and people began to jump. As each person in front of me jumped, I started to get nervous. I wanted to ask, “How many back up chutes does this thing have?” Before I realized it, I was staring down at the ground barely able to make out a car. He told me to smile for the camera. Then, without warning he pushed me and we were falling!
It was a fantastic moment! Freefalling for 90 seconds! Before we jumped he asked if I wanted to just drop or do some spins. What did I say? You got it, “spin away.” Here we are, thousands of feet up spinning around and around. I loved it! It was exhilarating! The view was breathtaking. It was an amazing experience!
A few minutes later I landed safely on the ground. I ran to my wife who had just gotten up after kissing the ground. She saw me beaming from ear to ear. She asked if I had a good time. I said, “oh yeah!’
As I think about this experience, I am reminded of a quote I read from Joe Queenan, writer for the New York Times. He states that our culture has an “inability to accept the ordinary.” He states that we want “every experience to be a watershed, every meal extraordinary, every friendship epochal, every concert superb, every sunset meta-celestial…nothing can ever again be exactly what it was in the first place… ordinary.”
He makes an interesting observation. I think he is exactly right. It probably explains some of my thrill-seeking tendencies.
As I think about his statement, I wonder if this carries over to our pursuit for joy in the Christian life. We don’t want a steady joy but a mind-blowing one. We want to feel happy rather than resting content. I think we want our joy to be extraordinary. So, we pray to God to give us joy. And quite possibly what we mean by this is “God give me an emotional, upbeat high each day and every day.” We want to be smiling and skipping regardless of the circumstances.
Hebrews 12:2 states, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Wow! Joy is used in the context of enduring the cross.
Joy is not an emotional high; it is a state of resting in God’s will. Joy is not the absence of difficulties; it is the confidence that God will bring all things to a good ending. Joy is not always a smile; it is trusting in God when life is hard. Yes, it also involves delight and laughter but it is so much more. See, joy is not an experience. It is a state of fully knowing that we are accepted, forgiven, and loved by Christ. It is realizing God entered our world for the purpose of dying so that we can have this joy – a joy that an extreme sport cannot give. However, it is also not ordinary. God incarnate is anything but ordinary. It is life-changing. It is extraordinary.