In a former life, I've been known to say that a typical slalom water-ski run was nearly as good as sex; but the pure joy of a perfect run is slightly better. After several years of neither, I'm a little fuzzy on whether the comparison is still valid, so let's just focus on waterskiing.
Sadly, it takes me longer to get ready than to actually ski. I first have to hang onto something, usually the wakeboard tower to stretch my arms, shoulders and back. Of course I also need to stretch my hamstrings, calves and quads. Then not just any ski vest will do. Mine has to be lightweight but tight fitting. I like to wear gloves, so those go on next. Then I have to dip the ski in the water and squirt dish soap in the now wet ski boots because they're otherwise difficult to get on. My right foot has to be in front and goes in first, laced tightly. The left foot can be looser in the back.
Once I'm finally in the water and the boat is slowly pulling the rope taught, my heart is already racing in anticipation. I've made hundreds of successful runs on the same ski towed by the same boat, but every time I wonder how in the world I will ever get up on that one ski, and it's unfortunately impossible to do that without first getting aggressively pulled out of the water. So, before I give the driver the signal to pull, I go through a mental checklist: Ski tip 12 inches out of the water. Knees bent into my chest. Arms straight. Eyes focused on the top of the boat's tower to force by head up.
Then all hell breaks loose. It's 0 to 34 mph in a few seconds while blinded from the spraying water. I try to remember to stay in a crouch and keep my weight back while pushing my right foot down like it's on an accelerator just hard enough to plane the ski out of the water. But the beginning of every run is different based on who's driving the boat. I'm convinced the most important part is just hanging onto the rope while trusting muscle memory. When I do this, before I know what's happened, I'm skiing. Then the pure joy of the perfect run can begin, cutting through the boat's wake, leaning out further with each turn in water like glass.
I can try to explain the process, but to learn to water ski well on a slalom ski, we have to eventually get into the water and try it. We do this knowing that, as the boat pulls us out of the water and we attempt to ski, we'll fall many times. But each fall teaches us something, if we pay attention. The instructions help, but it's the application of those facts through experience that make the difference in success or failure.
Such is life. We can read about true love or the birth of a child, but it's the experience that changes us. Likewise, we can experience back pain, the death of a loved one, divorce, anger, depression, humiliation, or loneliness. All are impossible to understand without living them. And all can teach us a little about ourselves and much about God's abiding love and comfort, if we allow that learning to happen. If we can hang onto that love long enough to let it pull us out of the water, the inspired words of instruction we've read and heard before will become real through the experience.
Then and only then can we, through the empathy gained during our experiences, become that same love to others. I'm convinced that is the place where pure joy begins. It's the real purpose of life.