Gratitude Adjustment: Rediscovering Joy Through Thankfulness
by DeWayne Hamby
Thank you for visiting my blog. Here’s the introduction to my new book Gratitude Adjustment: Rediscovering Joy Through Thankfulness.
Good comedy resonates when it touches a solid truth and the character, Debbie Downer, from NBC’s Saturday Night Live is proof of that. Played by Rachel Dratch, the character would insert herself into parties, often spilling the worst-case scenarios of whatever subject the guests may be discussing, accompanied by a sour face and the “Wahhh, Wahhh” musical sound effect. “I just got a new job!” one character might say, to which Debbie would respond, “But unemployment has never been higher.” Wahh, Wahh.
I don’t propose everyone put fake smiles on and go around singing the “Happy” song all the time, but joy should be more easily found in the lives of Christians than it is now. Where did it go? Why does everyone seem so defeated, pessimistic, and unsatisfied?
I have to believe it comes down to perspective. Some people have a different outlook than others, no matter what position or location they find themselves in.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
I absolutely love to travel. Now, I’m not talking about boarding planes or having to squat in that half-stand we do to let others know we’re ready when the de-boarding line starts moving. Pulling off and putting my belt back on again in front of large groups of strangers is another thing I could live without.
When I talk about my fondness for travel, I really mean the excitement of exploring the world beyond my small community. One of my favorite things in life is discovering new locations and soaking in the beauty of the earth that God created. Before college, I had never traveled farther north than Tennessee. Since then, climbing Mars Hill in Athens, Greece, riding through the jungles of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and watching the sun go down over the waters near Orcas Island in Washington are experiences I will never forget.
During one trip to a tropical and sunny location, I was particularly bubbly and upbeat, in large part because it was my honeymoon but also because of the incredible savings we received when we reserved our rooms. Imagine paying for and expecting to occupy the janitor’s closet and instead opening the door to the king’s quarters and you get a clue of our windfall. It was the upgrade of a lifetime and I laughed and reveled in the sheer shock of the luxurious accommodations. I strutted around that paradise resort, studying the architecture and discovering new features, determined not to miss anything. I even told my wife, “I feel like one of those beggars that got invited to the king’s feast, because no one else showed up.”
Jesus told that story of the Great Banquet in Matthew 22. The king had prepared a wedding feast for his son, only to be disappointed in those who ignored his invitation. When he realized those who were invited weren’t found worthy and did not treat his invitation with due respect, he filled up the banquet hall with random attendees, people who would otherwise not qualify for dinner with the king.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the streets, and invite to the wedding banquet as many as you find.’ So those servants went out into the streets and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22: 8–10 MEV).
In my tropical paradise, while I enjoyed my moment in the sun, I was surprised to find that not everyone shared my enthusiasm. Disappointment showed on their faces and random complaints were tossed around. This place wasn’t quite as nice as they thought it could be or the service wasn’t as detail-oriented as they would have liked. Maybe the dolphins gave them the stink eye, who knows For whatever reason, they knew of somewhere better or maybe wished they’d not bothered to come. It could be that as the newness wore off, the guests started to feel more entitled, as comedian Jim Gaffigan humorously observed:
“All hotels are nice that first night. You’re like ‘This is pretty sweet.’ The next night you’re like ‘This place is a dump!’ We get spoiled so quickly in hotels. They could have the nicest amenities but after a couple of days, you’re like, ‘Hmm, same chocolate on the pillow. You’d think by now they’d know I like peanut butter.’”
Our resort, which to this very day I give the most glowing of recommendations, probably suffered the cruelest of internet reviews once some of those disgruntled travelers returned home. Internet travel reviews run the gamut, in case you didn’t know. But there in paradise, why were our experiences so different? They couldn’t wait to get home while I held back tears during our check out. We shared the same location and most likely enjoyed identical accommodations, and still our assessments were polar opposites. Why?
There are people who think they deserve the best and people who know that they don’t. I landed on the latter end of that spectrum, especially in that instance. It was a random blessing that placed us there, not anything I could have orchestrated. I hadn’t invested the same amount of time or resources that some of them had, but I was enjoying the benefits all the same. That experience also reminds me of another parable found in Matthew 20 of the workers in the vineyard.
“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of
them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?’” (vv. 8–15).
God never said this life would be fair. In fact, stories such as the ones mentioned here seem to spell out a completely different outcome. Things are not just going to “even out” and satisfy our cravings for justice or what we feel we are entitled to. I’m glad, because I’m at a loss for creating a winning and successful life plan that allows me access to eternal life. Left to my own devices and resources, there’s no way I could ever orchestrate the upgrade. Whatever we are lacking, the grace of God makes up for it. It changes our entire experience. I need to constantly remind myself of that to maintain the proper perspective and have an attitude of gratitude to the one who is giving me exactly what I don’t deserve.
Gratitude is the lens through which our entire Christian experience should be viewed. It places everything into its proper perspective. We arrived here with nothing and we will leave with all the love our hearts can hold. What else could there possibly be to stay unhappy about?
I’m not a happiness expert. In fact, I have three very active, sometimes destructive, many times high-maintenance young girls at my house, if that tells you anything. Just recently, I asked my youngest, rhetorically (because she couldn’t understand—she’s three), “Why does your happiness always have to come at the expense of mine?” She just walked away with the iPhone I had been holding and smiled.
Even though I am still feeling my way around what it means to be full of joy at times, I am blown away with an awareness of what God has done in my life and yours and the promises that have yet to be fulfilled. When I approach life and my service to Him with that perspective, my heart is full. It truly is a wonderful life and in serving Him, it’s only going to get better.
“. . . I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
This book is not a step-by-step guide to being grateful or being happy, but it is a collection of thoughts, many from the pages of The White Wing Messenger, that come from knowing the incredible God we serve and the wonderful blessings He has given. While reading, I hope that you too will be filled with thankfulness of His awesome grace and, if needed, a chance to adjust your own gratitude.
Thank you (see what I did there?) for reading.