I had just finished my career at Brigham Young University, where I received a world-class education and married my best friend, Vicki. And based on what coach LaVell Edwards was telling me, I had a chance to get drafted and play in the National Football League.
Almost 30 years ago — on April 25, 1993 — Vicki and I watched the NFL draft from our 400-square-foot apartment in Wymount Terrace, where BYU’s married students live. The phone rang. It was the Indianapolis Colts: “Derwin, we have drafted you as the 92nd selection!”
Vicki started crying. In excitement, I said, “I don’t care if I even get in the game. I just want to be on the team! I’ll be happy just being on the team!”
Who wouldn’t be happy living their dream?
After year one in the NFL, though, I told Vicki, “If I could play two years, I’d be happy.” And for four consecutive seasons, I said the same thing: “If I could play another year, I’d be happy.”
Happiness was like a shadow that was too fast to catch. There were many moments of happiness, but the moments were temporary residents in my soul. An underlying anxiety and fear were the constant tenants, renting several rooms in my mind. Why wasn’t happiness a way of being for me?
Since then, I’ve learned that happiness as a way of being must be found in something greater than our circumstances. Circumstances change faster than Utah weather. If our happiness is found in favorable circumstances only, we will constantly find ourselves disoriented and discouraged.
I’ve also learned that happiness as a way of being cannot be found in money or fame. I thought that money would heal my childhood trauma and fix my family drama. I thought I could shop my way out of the pain and shame of my past. I thought fame would cover my insecurities. I was so hard on myself. I never measured up.
Finally, I learned that happiness as a way of being is found in becoming a beautiful, loving person. Happiness blooms from becoming the person you were meant to be.
On Aug. 2, 1997, I met a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. He was the happiest, most loving person who has ever lived. When I met him, I was at my worst, but he gave me his best —grace. His grace made me a new person, and my eyes were opened. Here’s what he taught me about becoming happy:
Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.
Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.
In 2023, may you find the happiness you are seeking. And along the way, may you become the person you were always meant to be.
The Rev. Derwin L. Gray is co-founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina and the author of “How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation” and “The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches about Finding True Happiness.”