“It Doesn’t Get Better Than This!”
During a 2012 Truthworks Bible study, we spent the summer in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s kind of a downer journal, in that it accounts the ancient Israeli King Solomon in his full pursuit of happiness and finding emptiness on the other end of that search. Then and now, it hits close to home, as I’ve tried all kinds of thrills and accomplishments; and I’ve taken turns with different experiments to feel accomplished.
I was reminded of that headspace again a few Saturdays ago, as I was saying my goodbyes to the folks I met for my first AFF skydive. One of the other skydivers, punctuated an invite to my next lesson with “It doesn’t get better than this!”
I’m not sure if that was just a cliché to carry the general sentiment, or if jumping out of a plane was the zenith of his life experience. Either way, I can agree with the idea that there’s nothing like the free fall out of a plane, the yank of the opened chute, or that sense when your feet touch down—alone under that bright canopy.
I can say, though, life does get better than that.
For background to what I’m about to say, know that I’ve tested that hypothesis.
I’ve bungee jumped in three (foreign) countries and paraglided in five. I’ve also flown in a biplane, a sailplane, two seaplanes, two parasails, a hang glider, an ultralight, a hot air balloon, and even a doorless helicopter pulling a 180º slide. I’ve jumped out of an airplane on both the north and south sides of the equator and jumped off a mountain with a trash can over my head. I’ve whitewater rafted class V rapids on rivers 17 time zones apart and kayaked rain-swollen creeks. I’ve driven a retired Indy car over 180 mph and spun out a Formula 2000 car on a 12-turn road course. I’ve had my daily driver on the track, off the ground, and over 110mph on the way to church. I’ve repelled waterfalls on two continents, ice climbed in Argentina, and zip lined more than 600 feet above a rainforest in Costa Rica. I’ve climbed a 57-meter construction crane in South Africa, stood on the helicopter pad atop Paris’ tallest skyscraper, and jumped off the 63rd story of the then-tallest building in the southern hemisphere. I’ve hiked some of the most iconic trails in the world, including Peru’s Inca Trail, British Columbia’s West Coast Trail, Switzerland’s Walkers Haute Route, and parts of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve wakeboarded, snowboarded, and river boarded—in the coldest river in France (3ºC) and in a deadly river in New Zealand. I’ve gotten medical treatment for whiplash from high-speed boat tubing and crashed a personal watercraft after taking it airborne. I’ve snowboarded, snow skied, and driven a go-kart on packed snow in a windchill of -30ºF. I’ve taken a snowmobile to the Continental Divide and an elevator to the bottom of Niagara Falls. And the most intense of them all: I’ve done 79 mph on the back of an Olympic bobsled run with the former Jamaican bobsled coach depicted in Cool Runnings.
I can tell you, it gets better than any of that.
I’ve written a nonfiction book, won writing competitions, and garnered over 200 marketing awards for clients and fellow employees. My company has sold over a million dollars of freelance graphic design; and I work in a 1,200 square foot office 15 steps from my bedroom. Hundreds of people subscribe to my blog posts; and I’ve had standing room only at some of my seminars around the country. My articles have appeared in two handfuls of publications, and I’ve had a press release go viral around the world. I’ve been asked to write other people’s wedding vows, and one dude hired me to write poetry to present to his wife. I’ve filmed a unique car commercial in Los Angeles, and I’ve been interviewed by automotive journalists at the New York International Auto Show. I’ve hit up an IHOP with an Atlanta Braves player after midnight and won a most romantic husband award at a marriage conference. One of my comedy bits (a series of Tweets with fictitious reality TV show concepts) got showcased on a podcast with over hundreds of thousands of subscribers [70:00-mark], and I’ve been retweeted by Mark Cuban.
I can tell you, it gets way better than any of that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying those adventures and accomplishments were worthless. I’m definitely not saying that they were void of exhilaration, accomplishment, or self-realization. But they didn’t bring lasting joy. In fact, like narcotics, they create an ache for more and make the battle for contentment more difficult.
On a much, much smaller scale than Solomon, I’ve taken the pleasure, treasure, and influence trains to see where they go. This side of heaven, I wouldn’t call them completely empty and pointless like he did; but I haven’t taken the trains as far as he did. I don’t plan to see where those tracks lead, since he’s already transcribed what I’ll find there.
What’s better than physical adventure is the spiritual journey with Jesus. Career success and social recognition—mine anyway—only looks good and important, if I forget the size of the ponds in which I swim. [They range from small to microscopic.]
You know what does “get better than this”?
Baptizing your sister.
Baptizing your buddies who attribute part of their spiritual growth to your influence.
Standing at the bottom of a glacier, shouting God’s attributes into the wind.
Feeling hands on you as people pray for you or a loved one.
Hearing a spiritual rookie pray the best they know how.
Worship so real and intimate that tears stream down your cheek.
Acts of subtle sovereignty that let you know you’re loved.
Prayer answered in wild ways.
Words that come to you from a place outside of yourself.
Perfectly-timed text messages from others or to others by Holy Spirit prompting.
Bro hugs from other grown men who you don’t have to impress.
Witnessing the change in and around surrendered lives.
Having a friend ask you to write a eulogy for him to read over his mom.
Being part of something bigger than yourself.
Knowing that your life counts and makes a difference.
Those don’t necessarily look as good on social media, let alone on GoPro’s Facebook page. Those relatively small moments don’t always make the annual Christmas letter, either. But in those hours when I’m wondering what the “point of it all” is, my encounters with the supernatural are the moments I recall to get my bearings. When challenges hit, those are the memories that give me the confidence to get on my knees first and often. Those are the mile markers that measure my journey.
At the end of my life, I’d rather be known for what I did in a prayer circle, in a reflective vest, in a counseling conversation, or with a text message than anything I commercially wrote or designed at my desk. No matter the pictures that’ll be shown at my memorial service, I hope people have stories of how they saw Jesus or his attributes in me. When someone else writes my obituary, I hope they can honestly write, “He pursued spiritual and physical adventure in such a way that others were drawn to do the same.”
For me, it wouldn’t get much better than that.