Have you ever met someone whose life seems to be a never-ending string of amazing, marvellous, wonderful, and awesome? Do you feel like punching them? Maybe it’s a friend who goes on vacation and sends you daily updates describing how magnificent and fantastic things are. Breathtaking scenery. Succulent food. Smooth and timely flights. Meanwhile you’re back home with a flat tire, a leaky faucet and a neighbour’s cat that’s scouting out your flower beds.
Recently my dear friend James and his wife Anne embarked on a European vacation. I was delighted for them. I really was. He’s a college professor with a doctorate from Cambridge, so the guy works hard six or seven months a year. I, however, was staring down the barrel of some deadlines and a to-do list longer than a Victor Hugo novel. Then the first epistle from James arrived.
“Beautiful sunny day for walking around Rome. I think I got a sunburn. We hung out at the Colosseum and the Forum today. Quite a city. Down from our quaint hotel is the perfect place for gelato. We plan on visiting it often. Have a great day!”
I wrote back, “That sounds fantastic, James! I’m envious, but glad for you. Give thanks for that sunburn. I got a rain burn today. Better run. Take care.”
A few days later he launched his second volley. “The sun has not stopped shining here. My second cousin works at the Vatican library so he invited us to a garden party. Quite spectacular. Hope all is going well. Grace and peace.”
I let it sit a few days then responded. “So! Garden party at the Vatican, huh? Ramona and I had a garden party last night. We weeded our garden. Did you snap any pictures? Was the Pope there? Did he let you try on his hat? I’m glad your second cousin works at the Vatican library. I have some second cousins who are finally out of prison. Our sewer backed up again today. A crew comes tomorrow to dig up our driveway. Went for a bike ride today. Got a flat. Better go, my daughter just brought her car over and there’s an awful ding in it. The door goes katingee! when you try to open it. Grace but not necessarily peace. Your ever-lovin’ friend, Phil.”
In no time this arrived. “Anne and I had a good laugh reading your email. You should write comedy. Yesterday we visited the Sistine Chapel, saw Michelangelo’s great frescos on the ceiling, ate some incredible pizza, and enjoyed more blue sky. Today we hopped a train to Venice. The Grand Canal. Gondolas. More blue sky. An evening stroll in San Marco square. You really should be here. More grace and peace, James.”
I responded immediately, “We are sorry, your email was blocked due to excessive gloating. Please send a dismal report should you encounter one.”
“Dear St. Phil,” he wrote. “As much as I would like to report that things are going badly, I cannot. We are dining like royalty. Food is flowing on an endless conveyer belt. The view from our apartment is stunning. Maybe tomorrow will be awful and I can cheer you up with the details. James.”
I couldn’t type fast enough: “Sadly, your email came through in German. I think it instructed me to put your house up for sale, Yavol? You’ll be pleased to know that interested parties are walking through it now.
“Today I received the bill from the sewer repair guys. Almost had a conniption, which is a rare thing. Our parents had conniptions, but you don’t hear much about them anymore. I am thinking of becoming a plumber. Travel safe. Your envious buddy, Phil.”
Have you ever felt like I did? A friend is having a garden party; you’re having a pity party?
The Bible is filled with difficult commands, few more difficult than Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (BSB). I excel at the latter half of that verse. I care. I listen well. I gladly bring my wife’s casseroles to the sick and grieving. But rejoice with those who rejoice? Most of us find it more difficult. Yet if we want to experience contagious joy, five practical steps will help:
- Avoid the sin of comparison. Nothing breeds dissatisfaction faster
- Learn to take genuine delight in the successes and joys of others
- Throw a party to celebrate a friend’s achievements
- Invite a friend like James over to show you photos of his trip
- Marvel moment by moment at God’s grace and goodness to you
True joy is impossible if we remain self-focused. However, it is inevitable if we focus on Jesus and give thanks for the blessings in our own lives. Remember wherever you vacation, whatever kind of garden party you’re having, joy grows best in the soil of thanksgiving.
I’m getting so carried away with all these thoughts, that I may just take James and Anne a casserole. If I can just get my wife to make one.