Justin breathed heavily on the stage in front of a sea of kindergarden to fifth graders. He ran a hand through his brown hair as he relived the first part of the bible story. With his kakis and blue button-down shirt, Justin was about discover a truth that he didn’t even know he was looking for.
I’ve always loved this story. “Jonah was running away by sailing to a far-off land, but God wasn’t happy with Jonah and sent a storm. The sailors tried everything they could to save the boat, but they were in serious trouble. When the sailors found out that Jonah was the cause of the storm, they had no choice but to throw Jonah into the sea. God sent a giant fish who swallowed Jonah up. Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights. Then, Jonah found happiness and contentment. He prayed to God and thanked Him. Then, the giant fish spit Jonah out onto the beach.”
And the children exploded with questions.
“Why is Jonah happy?”
“I would have speared the fish!”
“Look, Mr. Justin’s a statue. Let’s throw something into his mouth!”
“No, Mr. Justin has a tumor, his head is going to explode.”
I was stumped. Why was Jonah happy? Most people act like happiness is dependent on circumstances. But that doesn’t make sense. I know too many people who have no right to be happy, but still are. What did make Jonah happy?
The children’s coordinator smiled and laughed. “Wow, children! You stumped Mr. Justin! That’s not easy to do. I have a great idea. Let’s let Mr. Justin think about it and give us an answer next week. And, all of you can think of more great questions to stump Mr. Justin!”
The children cheered!
I picked up my bible, a notebook and a pen and drove to a local all-night restaurant. “Coffee and a piece of apple pie please.”
The coffee came. “I hate coffee, why did I order it. Maybe the sugar will help.”
Then I heard an ornery voice. “You put me in your coffee and I’m asking to be moved. How would you like it if someone spit up coffee all over you?”
I looked at what I was about to pour into my coffee. “Yuck! Pepper!” I put the pepper shaker back down on the table. I looked around. “Who tipped me off? Wow, I don’t see anyone. Weird.”
The ornery voice was back. “I am not weird.”
I looked up in shock! “Woah! I’m talking with a pepper shaker! It really looks like your talking! Maybe you have a really small speaker on you?”
The pepper shaker responded. “You caught me. I do have a speaker on me. It’s called a mouth! You need help from the #1 spice in the world?”
I was incredulous. “You are not the #1 spice in the world.”
The pepper shaker stomped right up to me. “Wow, what a grump! You ARE like soggy pasta. No wonder Joy won’t talk with you! What did you accuse her of, being no more then dish soap?”
I closed my eyes. How can a stupid pepper shaker know that I don’t know where joy comes from? “You know what? You’re right. I can pull up a movie on my phone. Do some social media. I’ll just order one beer … barrel. That’s as good as joy. Are you satisfied now?”
The pepper shaker huffed. “Think Einstein, you’re supposed to be the salt of the earth, not syrup of ipecac. Those are just distractions; really, really brief distractions. Like opening up the door and looking at the salad dressing. Now, are you ready to put some spice into this, or are you going to just keep sitting on the shelf with all the other spices that don’t want to be used?”
I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath. “Okay, okay, I’ll try. I have a newborn in the hospital, but I should be happy. The doctors don’t know whether he’ll live or die. So, I should be filled with joy. After all, ‘Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.’ And then there’s the ‘rejoice always’. What I really should be doing is walking around clapping people on the back and telling them what a great day this is! Why didn’t I think of this before?”
The pepper glared at me. “God didn’t ask you to be an idiot either.”
I blew out a deep breath. “Okay, okay, okay, what should I do Mr. I’m going to spice up your life?”
The pepper went quiet for spell. “Okay. Here goes. Picture a time when you were thoroughly humiliated. You can still think, can’t you? Did it make you feel like crawling back into bed and never come out? Do you ever want to experience that humiliation again?”
I threw my hands into the air. “You want me to what? Wow! This is so great! I never thought to think about the myriad of times that I’ve been totally humiliated! What a great way to increase my joy! You’re a genius!”
The pepper shaker rolled his eyes. “Your sarcasm is truly terrible. Have you thought about running for congress? Now concentrate. What if I offered you ten million dollars to endure a full day of that humiliation, would you consider it?”
I was was confused. “Where does a pepper shaker get ten million dollars?”
The pepper shaker smiled broadly. “I know a good kitchen when I see one. And, I’m really good at getting a lot of spices from the stock market. Now, stop changing the subject. Will you or won’t you?”
I looked up at the ceiling and tried to imagine the money. “Why would I want to endure that? … Well … Maybe … Okay … Sure, for ten million dollars, I’d do it. I could really use the ten million. That could be fun!”
The pepper shaker smiled. “You know, when you changed you’re focus from the bad event of getting humiliated to the good event of getting ten million dollars, you were willing to suffer through the bad to get to the good. You know, joy works the same way. It all depends on what you’re focused on.”
That hit a chord. It made sense after that.
Just like “your attitude determines your altitude, your focus determines your happiness.” Zig Ziggler
“Happiness always sneaks in through a door you didn’t know was open!” John Barrymorre
Happiness is the knowing your journey is taking you to a great place. “Thanks Pepper Shaker. We make a great team.”
The pepper shaker stomped off. “They may be no I in team, but there are four I’s in Platitude-Quoting Idiot!”
Back as the storyteller, I was ready to answer the children. “What made Jonah happy? Happiness is knowing that all things work together for the good for those who love God. And Jonah knew that no matter what happened, God would always be there to take care of him. Even more, Jonah know that he was going to a better place, no matter what happened. That’s where Jonah found his happiness.”
I paused and looked around at the children’s faces. They were all in deep thought. Considering.
I continued on. “In my life, I’ve discovered the same thing as Jonah. So, where do you find your joy? What destination can you focus on that will fill your ‘here and now’ with joy? Write it down right now so you don’t forget it.”