Many years ago a New York couple entertained a foreign visitor by taking him through Coney Island. At the end of what they considered a perfect day, they asked him what he thought. He looked at the noisy, brightly-lit park and said quietly, “What a sad people you Americans must be.”
I thought of that story when deciding that, after years of being dragged through amusement parks, I’m retiring. Never again will I have to explain why I refuse to ride anything with a warning sign about height, pregnancy, or heart condition. This is not a spur of the moment decision. I’ve been “amused” several times at Six Flags in both Dallas and Atlanta. I’ve been to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I’ve ridden an elephant in Circus World and fed porpoises in Sea World. And I rode “It’s a Small, Small World” in Disneyworld long enough to have that cursed song forever etched in my memory. Enough is enough!
Visits to Disneyworld (near my parents’ home) have melded into each other in distant memory. Except for the time in early July we spent an hour and a half creeping bumper to bumper toward the parking lot. Whatever lot we parked in should have been named “Dopey” or “Grumpy.” By then we were both. Our last trip there was on a “we go today or not at all” schedule during the kids’ school spring vacation and a mid-March rainstorm (forecast to arrive two days later). I had worn sandals in case of foot swelling. But feet that are soaked in 55 degree water all day do not swell. They shrivel and turn blue.
“At least it won’t be crowded,” I’d said. (It’s amazing how many other stupid people apparently believed the same thing.) My husband said, “We paid a small fortune to get in and you’re going to enjoy yourself—like it or not.” My son kept asking “When do we eat?” (But that’s what he did at home, too.) And my daughter alternated between telling me how wet she was and asking for a Mickey Mouse balloon. Buying one before the last five minutes of the day is asking for trouble.
Every year new amusement parks are built, but this is really nothing new. Three thousand years ago the richest king who ever lived set out to amuse himself. Solomon built his own “world” of palaces filled with gold and silver treasures, servants, and musicians. He beautifully landscaped gardens, orchards, pools, and fountains. He imported peacocks to strut in his gardens and apes to cavort in his zoo. And he could enjoy it all whenever he liked—with no crowds.
With all his wealth and pleasures, was Solomon happy? He recorded his feelings in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled, and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 2:10-11).
The reality didn’t live up to the expectation for Solomon. It seldom does. Because fun is not the same as joy. Fun fades. And we’re left with memories, photographs, and a shriveled balloon. Fun fades, but joy lasts. Joy can’t be bought with a season ticket or dampened by a rainstorm. Joy comes to those who stop worshiping their play and playing at their worship. Joy does not depend on where we go but on Who goes with us.
Amusement parks can be fun. I might recant and go again but if I do, I won’t be looking for joy. I know where to find it. The same place David found it: “In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm l6:11NKJV). And the same place Jesus said He would leave it for us: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Vicki Huffman has written about how to find real joy in her newly revised and released book Plus Living: Looking for Joy in All the Right Places available on Amazon.com.
Reading God’s Story Schedule today, 1/31/13: Job 33-36
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