You Don’t Have to Chase Shadows Anymore

I have been a student of Dr. Derwin Gray’s leadership for some time now. He has a humble way about him that draws people in and makes them feel seen. He is focused in his mission to bring all ethnic groups together into one family as that is God’s heart. Regarding his latest book, The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness, my dear sister, Beth Moore says, “Prepare to learn and be challenged. Get ready to grow and be stretched and go ahead and thank God in advance that, if you’re willing, you are about to enter a happier, more fulfilling life.” True happiness and the good life is available to us, and Dr. Gray points the way. Please help me welcome Dr. Derwin Gray to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Dr. Derwin Gray

As a little boy growing up on the west side of San Antonio, Texas, I loved chasing my shadow.

Back in the late 1970s, children didn’t have smartphones or tablets to entertain us, so we played outside, making up games as daylight slipped into night.

Chasing my shadow always started fun, but the enjoyment soon faded into frustration when I realized I could never catch it, no matter how fast I ran.

Trying to find lasting happiness is like chasing your shadow; what starts as childish fun erodes into adult frustration.

At some point in our lives, we realize no matter how hard and how long we work, we will never catch lasting happiness.

If there were a picture of the American Dream on Wikipedia, it would be of my big ol’ head.

I’m the son of two African American teenagers from the hood. My parents brought me into the world at a time when heroin and crack flooded poor communities.

I experienced things no child should ever have to experience or even know about.

But I had a dream.

During my freshman year of high school, I was inspired by a senior football player. He earned a football scholarship to a major university, and if that wasn’t enough, the prettiest girl in the school was his girlfriend. He was living the good life—he was happy.

And I wanted to be happy too.

During my sophomore year, I transferred to Converse Judson High School, a football dynasty. As I bought into Judson’s culture, I went from a scrawny, weak, slow kid to a strong, muscular, fast, elite athlete garnering the attention of college football scouts. Eventually, the dream came to fruition. I accepted a football scholarship to Brigham Young University (BYU).

Provo, Utah, where BYU is located, is breathtakingly beautiful. The campus is situated below the majestic Wasatch Mountains. As a South Texas kid, the beauty of Provo captured me. But then I saw something more beautiful than the mountains—a girl with a long ponytail lifting weights in the BYU athletic weight room. We exchanged phone numbers and, well, the rest is history. Vicki and I have been together ever since. On May 23, 2020, we celebrated twenty-eight years of marriage.

My BYU experience was great. I’m recognized as one of the greatest players ever to have played at BYU, and I married Superwoman. My dream came true, and I was living the good life.

I was happy . . . at least for a little while.

On April 25, 1993, the Indianapolis Colts drafted me as the 92nd selection in the NFL Draft. It was surreal. I did it. I was living the American Dream. The good life and happiness will be mine, I thought.

But just like chasing shadows as a little boy, I really wouldn’t be able to truly catch lasting happiness.

My first year in the NFL was miserable. I didn’t have many friends on the team. I was barely playing. Some of my teammates didn’t like me because my wife was white. My wife and I were both lonely. We wanted to go back to BYU where I was a beloved star.

My second year was better, and by my third year, I was the Special Teams Captain. I was now a valuable member of the team, and people in the city knew me for my community service. But the happiness that I wanted continued to elude me.

Don’t get me wrong; there were happy moments; but like you, I was looking for a happiness that was more than just feeling good from time to time. Like you, I wanted a happiness deeper, better, and more real than that.

My story of seeking happiness in jobs, relationships, fame, and money is not much different than most people in our culture.

As a pastor, I see a lot of unhappy people. With more than fifteen years of counseling experience, I have learned that both those who follow Jesus and those who do not are longing and desperately searching for happiness.

What if the happiness we are hustling after can never be caught?

What if the happiness we are running ourselves into physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion for is inferior to the happiness we’ve been made to experience?

What if created things were never meant to make us happy in the way we desire to experience happiness?

What if happiness is found by gazing into the face of God in Jesus Christ, and walking in His path of light, life, and righteousness?

For thirty-three years, Jesus was happiness personified. He came to earth on a mission of reconciliation, with a royal invitation in his bloody, nail-pierced hands. He was inviting us to experience His kind of happiness, as citizens in His kingdom. Here’s the invitation card:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matt. 5:3–10)

The Beatitudes are what love looks like in action.

Often people wonder what it looks like to “love my neighbor.” Jesus’ audience would have known from the writings in the Old Testament such as Leviticus 19:9-18.

Here’s my paraphrase:

In response to God’s generous love, generously provide for the poor.
In response to God’s grace, don’t take what’s not yours or lie to people for dishonest gain.
In response to God’s kindness, treat people kindly; if not, you are dishonoring God’s name.
In response to God’s mercy, don’t oppress people by cheating them financially.
In response to God’s goodness, protect those with special needs and those who are marginalized.
In response to God’s justice, don’t suck up to the rich while being unfair and unjust to the poor.
In response to God’s truth, don’t slander or gossip about people.
In response to God’s forgiveness, forgive those who have hurt you.
In response to the cross, do not carry a grudge; it’s far too heavy. Give it to Me. You’ll be happier.

I am the Lord, your God. Love people the way I have loved you; this is why I made you. Don’t worry—if you rest in me, my strength will be yours. I’ll do this in you and through you. I am the Lord, your God. I am good. I will give you my goodness. This is the good life.

To love our neighbors is to love God. To love God requires that we love our neighbors.

Two thousand years ago, on a hill over the Sea of Galilee, our good King invited us to discover the happiness we long to experience.

The invitation still stands.

You don’t have to chase shadows anymore. Jesus—happiness Himself—is chasing you.

Are you ready?

 

Dr. Derwin L. Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community located in Indian Land, SC. Derwin played professional football in the NFL for five years with the Indianapolis Colts (1993-1997) and one year with the Carolina Panthers (1998). Derwin went on to graduate magna cum laude from Southern Evangelical Seminary with a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, with a concentration in Apologetics. In 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Southern Evangelical Seminary. In 2018, he received his Doctor of Ministry in the New Testament in Context at Northern Seminary. 

He has written several books, the latest being The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness. In this book, Derwin teaches through the beatitudes and how happiness is found not in created things but in the Creator forming us into the image of Christ.

What is true happiness, and how can we find it? Everyone wants to be happy. We spend our money, time, and energy chasing after “the good life,” and we run ourselves into physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion on the way. But what if the happiness we’re all striving for isn’t the happiness we were created for?

Dr. Derwin Gray believes there is a path to true happiness. It is a life lived with Jesus by embracing the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. As you walk through these words, Jesus invites you into a new life-giving rhythm that cultivates a flourishing, happy, transformative life. Discover the good life you were meant for.