The Word of God

The Shirt Off Your Back


cityofagape.org blog shirt off your back

“Life keeps throwing me stones. And I keep finding the diamonds.” Ana Claudia Antunes

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Oscar Wilde

You hear people say over and over again that life is a mystery, but I think happiness is the real enigma. Just think about it for a minute. Why are some people just generally happy most of the time and why are others so miserable and see their life’s work to make others as miserable as they are, perhaps even more so? That is why I call happiness, or better said, the pursuit of happiness a mystery. Consider the following as an example or even a remedy to this mysterious movement to pursue a happy state in life:

It was said that a man had an only son whom he considered the light of his life and the joy of his heart. There was, however, one blatant and serious problem. His son was always unhappy. He would spend days on end at his window, staring into space.

Out of annoying and numbing desperation, his father kept asking him, “What is it that you lack, Son? For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with you!”

And the answer, in more or less the same verbiage, was disappointingly the same with equal frustrating reaction: “I don’t know, Dad.”

His father took another tact: “Son, are you in love? If there is a woman that you genuinely want to be with; tell me, and your old man may have some advice about courting her. We can approach this together if you allow me.”

And again, the response was similar: “No, Dad, I am not in love.”

Because of his great love for his only son, this beleaguered father tried every way possible to find a way to bring happiness to his offspring. He took him to movies, sporting games, concerts, and every activity that he thought his son would appreciate, but they were all useless. And what was even worse, his son began to sink deeper and deeper into a pre-depressive state of mind.

Even more determined and yet losing hope, this father went everywhere he could imagine to find a solution. He went to counselors, psychologists, therapists, priests, doctors and professors for some answers and a solution. This also proved as useless as it was costly.

Interestingly enough, an old uncle heard of this troubling family drama and reached out to the father and son. Everyone had thought that he was always a little strange, distant, even weird to a disconcerting degree. Thus, when he finally called, there was some worry and doubt. The advice he gave was strange but somehow reasonable: “Look for a happy man, your son’s same age, a person who is completely and thoroughly happy, and then exchange your son’s shirt for his.” And with this bizarre piece of advice, the man showed himself out the door, and left them both, father and son, to consider his strange but oddly familiar unsolicited advice.

The search was on. The father sought out young men of equal age as his son’s and always had the same question: “What do you truly desire?” To the struggling engineer, he asked the familiar question, and the answer was, “I want to be more successful and famous.” Another businessman would answer, “I want to own my own company,” while another would answer, “I want to fall in love.” To all these he would respond, “You are useless! I am looking for a man who is happy just as he is, not one who’s dissatisfied and trying to reach for things unavailable or lofty.”

The plight of these two and the search for “the most happy man” gained notoriety and fame. People were texting each other, posting their ideas on Facebook, and creating memes and cartoons about the whole affair.

Things took a seemingly wonderful turn when, through social media, a number of people started mentioning a man whom everyone thought was the happiest of all. Apparently, he had a wife as good as she was beautiful and a house full of children, young and maturing, who loved him deeply. He had succeeded in everything he attempted, made lots of money, and believed that every day was a gift. The father sought him out and asked for an interview and the two men met at a restaurant in a smaller city nearby and began to talk passionately about their lives and loves. But at some point in their conversation, the alleged-happy-man began to explain: “Yes, indeed, I have everything anybody could possibly want. But at the same time, I worry because I’ll have to die one day and leave it all. I can’t sleep at night for sheer worry.” The desperate father had his hopes dashed in one fell swoop.

During his long drive back home, he needed to stop for gas. In a small town, a name of which he had never heard before or could even remember was on the map, he pulled into a station that was quite reminiscent of the old 1960s sitcoms. As he stepped out of his car, he heard a man singing a most joyful and optimistic refrain. The forlorn father thought to himself, “Whoever sings like that is bound to be happy!” He followed the voice to the garage adjacent to the main building and found a young man more or less the same age as his son. He began by stating, “I am from a large city about forty miles away and I would like to offer to buy your filling station.”

The response was as simple as it was quick. “That’s a very kind offer, but I could not even consider it. I am as happy as I have ever been in my short life and I know why. I am very happy here and want nothing more.”

The older man, the father of the distraught young man, was quick to counter: “Please, I must ask you for a most important favor. My son is dying! Only you can save him.”

“I don’t really understand what you are saying, but I see the tears in your eyes,” came the young mechanic’s response, “and if I can save another human soul, I am all about it. What can I do?”

“May I please have your shirt?” asked the man anxiously. And with that, almost, and as if on cue, the young man began to remove his outer work jacket while the forsaken father grimaced in painful disappointment, his arms dropping lifelessly to his side.  

The happy man wore no shirt.

“It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.” Denis Waitley

“There is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness, but there is the discovery of joy.” Joyce Grenfell

Share your thoughts (14 thoughts)

14 thoughts on “The Shirt Off Your Back”

  • Thank you for this beautiful and thought provoking article. Your article nudges us to look within and reflect on the state of our souls, which in turn helps to define the state of our lives.
    Lord, I ask that you continue to give me the tools to fulfill my ministry in this life……for in this, all is well with my soul.
    Look forward to your next article!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so very much, Sandy, and welcome back to these pages! True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient. As you have written, we look to the state of our souls to discover that the greatest blessings are within us and within our reach especially because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Easter can be glorious if we stop and realize that the Resurrection means we face an eternity of no more longing, loneliness, or pain. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers for the work of this blog.

  • Julie Trevino says:

    We must have Jesus in our lives and put Him above all things.
    When the father went out searching for the happiest man and asked “what do you truly desire?” I noticed all of their responses started with “I want”…all earthly possessions. When the father found, or thought he had found the happiest man, believing that every day was a gift…Ahhh!!!…this is the one!…until he added ” I worry because I’ll have to die one day and leave it all.”. Again, more concerned about his earthly possessions rather than spending eternity with our Lord.
    Finally, the father finds a young man who owned a gas station and was happy. He said “I am very happy here and want nothing more.” Not even a shirt on his back!
    I believe we all need to be happy with what God has given us today…and nothing more. We must attach ourselves solely to the Will of God.

    • Caro says:

      During this wonderfully awesome and inspiring “Week That Changed the World,” we thank you, Julie for adding your comments to others who have reflected on our latest offering, “The Shirt off Your Back.” I was pleasantly surprised at the angle you took concerning the priority given to earthly possessions rather than spiritual ones–this is certainly where we can learn volumes to find and discover the mystery of true happiness which as you added is found in the Will of God. Human history is the story of our desperate search for true and lasting happiness. Even those people who appear to “have it all” long for something more, and sadly, they often give up hope of ever finding contentment and joy. As you so well reminded all of us, Julie, God offers the good news of his transforming grace, mercy, love, and eternal happiness: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge.” Happy Easter to you and all your family.

  • Ron says:

    Having a mission is life – a purpose – is where happiness lives. A mission is something we decide to pursue because we see it a worthwhile, meaningful, and rewarding. For some, their mission is raising their children, for others, it’s building something that fits the pursuits previously mentioned, for someone else it’s the freedom to create, or share, or learn. In short, we all have different things that drive us and fulfill our needs on a basic level. When I am at my happiest it is when I feel I am right with God, that I feel his presence and his peace within me. My worries have departed, my heart is light, my soul is tranquil; all is well with my family and hard day’s work was rewarding but in the end not so hard at all. I always tell my kids that life is about balance and find happiness in that balance. God is the fulcrum upon which all our endeavors rest. He is there in the center of our lives to guide us and put our lives back in balance. He speaks to us through our conscience and guides our hearts towards what will make us happy if we simply just listen and let Him.
    Happy moments, praise God.
    Difficult moments, seek God.
    Quiet moments, worship God.
    Painful moments, trust God.
    Every moment, thank God.

    • Caro says:

      Welcome back, Ron, and thank you again for your insights and thoughts in response to our latest offering, “The Shirt Off Your Back.” I know our readers and I can and happily full-heartedly agree with your assessment of things in this incredible journey: “life is about balance and find happiness in that balance. God is the fulcrum upon which all our endeavors rest.” We can also wholeheartedly agree that the Lord in fact speaks to us through our conscience if we were to just allow the time to listen. May you and all your family experience the depths and remarkable joys of Easter!

  • Veronica Altamirano says:

    Another well written article and a great reminder that true happiness can only be found in relying on God! Our inner peace, our joy, our true happiness comes from following Him and trusting in His timing. His love is all we truly need and in return we can show God’s love in all we do while on this Earth. God bless and Happy Easter!!!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so much, Veronica, for taking the time during this impressive Holy Week of our lives. True happiness is what we seek and if sought in the right places, is ours for eternity. Happy Easter!

  • Sylvia Garcia says:

    If I may, I would like to make a second comment.
    I have very much enjoyed all the wonderful and impactful stories you have posted, and I have also gained a lot of insight and benefit from the earnest responses of those that have shared their relative experiences. Then you reach back to us with your enlightened, thought provoking and often profound responses. This is a powerful way to engage and encourage us to be our better selves. The selves God created us to be. Thank you!
    And I pray that God will continue to bless your efforts to shepherd His flock.

    • Caro says:

      We are successful when we become who God created us to be.

      We are successful when we live out our purpose on earth.

      We are successful when we carry out our God-given assignment.

      We are successful when we seek God first in all things.

      We are successful when God’s approval is the most important thing to us!

  • Sylvia Garcia says:

    Great story to prompt us to think about what truly makes us happy. As happens so often we realize that happiness really comes giving of ourselves. From loving and helping each other through life. Living the “Prayer of St Francis of Assisi. Being God’s hand on earth. Peaceful, lasting happiness.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you, Sylvia, for taking the time to comment today. It is so true that happiness is often measured by how much of it we can share with others, especially those in most need around us. The great Saint perhaps said it best: “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”

  • Tony Montez says:

    I believe this beautiful story was a greeting from God to me. In 1984 Denis Waitley wrote “the psychology of winning” which is one of my favorite books. In the book he identifies 10 character traits and 10 corresponding behavioral traits of high achieving, happy people. Seeing his quote in the preface of this story made me smile. I really needed to read the story TODAY. There seems to be a recent increase of people roaming the earth with the mission to spread misery to as many people as possible. The other day I was interrupted while praying the rosary at the bedside of a very sick person. The person that interrupted demanded that I leave because of their policy. Not wanting to cause an incident I left the facility. However, I heard the staff person mockingly and gleefully telling coworkers that she interrupted me praying the rosary. It’s becoming quite common for people to replace judgement with policy. The removal of prudent judgment can embolden a person to act with cruelty while cowardly protected by policy. By the way, I was following their policy. They made a simple, inconsequential mistake related to visitation. There was no need, no reason to interrupt the rosary. My family likes to tease me about being bummed out a lot. Actually, I have a pretty consistent undercurrent of happiness. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be good natured to tease someone who’s already bummed out. This story reminds me to contribute to the good in the world. To share happiness with others. To make someone’s day better by having crossed life paths. I realized years ago, happiness isn’t a state or condition I hope to arrive at some day. The undercurrent of happiness is of God just as the waxing and waning of positive and negative emotions in life are of God. For all these blessings I am thankful.

    • Caro says:

      Holy Week Greetings to you and all your family, Dr. Montez, and thank you for gracing our pages again with your response to our latest offering, “The Shirt Off Your Back.” It is always a pleasure to learn of what adventure your “train” has arrived and to learn from the outcomes. I am sure that you agree with the author Waitley, whom we both cited. Happiness isn’t a destination. It’s not a place you’ll be transported to after you’ve accomplished your goals. It’s a practice — which is great news because that means each day you can make a ritual out of happiness. We must continue doing the things we love to do: go to the beach, write down our gratitudes, find humor in an awkward situation. In this way, as we all know you have succeeded in doing, we find when we practice these habits of happiness our positivity will become contagious and spread to our friends and family—and those who read us. God bless you and Happy Easter 2021!

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