I returned today from a weekend away at a conference all about Joy. It was an interesting time, and not quite the mountaintop experience I had hoped for, but lovely all the same. The retreat center is in the woods, and I enjoyed a walk around the lake, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, watching turtles swim, a night sky filled with stars, and a spiderweb glistening in the moonlight. Oh, and sharing a room with an unknown critter that I saw scurry underneath the couch. Excellent.
As I said, it wasn't a life changing weekend. I neither wept from the release of age old burdens nor leaped with a new uncontainable joy.
It's very easy for me to go to these sort of things and sit back and critique. I have been to several, and have helped run several, and I am a woman of strong opinions. I help plan worship at my church, organize the vacation bible school, and lead a small group bible study. I was a camp counselor, a camp program director, and have served on a committee that planned a youth gathering. I know what goes in to creating these kinds of events. I have seen great things happen at them, yet I am not easily enchanted by the "special things" they have planned.
For a good part of this weekend, I was unable to turn that inner "watcher" off as I watched tech problems and scheduling problems, inconsistencies and and failed communication, lackluster presenters and weak content. I'm a pretty outgoing person (surprised?), willing to strike up conversations with strangers and be one of the first people to speak in a group setting, and yet often found myself lonely and feeling out of place. There was a lot of awkward silence. I went to the weekend hoping for more than what I saw, and began to be disappointed.
I watched other women slowly open up. I saw them walk taller after we nailed our burdens to the cross. I saw them go from standing awkwardly to singing. I watched them cry and laugh and dance. And I realized that it is not all about me. It's not all about my experience, my joy, my increasing faith.
Of course, as I began to realize this, as I began to accept that I wasn't likely to come away a changed person, some things did change. I stopped expecting perfection, and instead watched the proceedings around me with love and grace. I saw people with hearts full and hands ready to help. I saw tears dried and hugs given and love shared.
I left calm and happy, and ready to go home.
At my door I was greeted by The May Queen, who flung herself into my arms for a full body hug. As she sat in my lap and my husband watched football and we made plans to bake cookies I felt joyful. More joyful than I did at the conference, where I expected to practically explode with joy. Yet I realized that on Friday afternoon, I would not have felt that joy sitting there. On Friday afternoon I was snippy and tired and short on patience. My husband and my daughter were not bringing me joy.
And so my weekend away did bring me joy, in a quieter and less expected way. I was able to return home, to the every day, and find the joy.
And that is just as important as any mountaintop experience.