I loved Disney as a kid, but the magic had worn off by the time I was out of college. The long lines, huge crowds, and overpriced food didn’t make up for three minutes of thrills on Space Mountain.
I never understood why grown adults without kids would fork over piles of money to stand in lines and fight crowds all day. But when my mom offered Paul and I two free day-passes, we gladly accepted them. I may hate lines but I am a sucker for anything that’s free.
What Paul and I discovered on this particular trip to the magic kingdom is that going to Disneyland for free is an entirely different experience than going to Disneyland for a hundred bucks. When Disneyland is free, every single moment of joy is a bonus. We didn’t pay for the moment because we paid for nothing. We didn’t deserve it so it became even sweeter.
When Disneyland is free, the long lines aren’t so bothersome. Ninety-minute wait for Space Mountain? We’ll pass. We don’t need to ride it this time. Sixty-minute wait for Star Tours? We’ll get a fast-pass and speed to the front of that line because Paul is a total Star Wars dork. Half-hour line for a corn dog? No worries. Sometimes a $9 corn dog is worth the wait. And we’ll eat our giant fried treats while we wait in line for the Matterhorn.
The crowds were in full Disney force that day but instead of being annoyed, we had a competition to see who could find the most groups wearing matching clothes. This was only problematic when Hudson pointed, WITH BOTH HANDS, at an Asian family as they walked by us, all the while loudly announcing, “Matching. Matching. Matching. Matching.”
All the things about Disneyland that would normally irritate me lost their power simply because the day was free. Without feeling obligated to get our money’s worth of fun, we could focus on the simple pleasures of the park. We strolled down Main Street, marveling at the Christmas decorations. We stopped and listened to the band playing “Let it go” and paused to watch little kids battling Darth Vader during their Jedi training.
Disneyland didn’t owe us anything since we paid for nothing. (except the corn dogs) There was no rush to go, go, go- to be everywhere and do everything and this brought freedom to simply be present. Sure, this meant we only had time for Tomorrowland, but that was perfectly okay.
On the ride home, we decided we need to live every day like we lived that day in the park.
Because really, every day on this planet is like a free day at Disneyland.
Every good thing in our lives is a bonus. We didn’t pay for any of it. Everything we have is a gift from God. Everything. We are owed nothing.
Too often I forget this. I feel like I have paid for a good life because I have worked hard and earned the things I have. I’ve been a “good” person so I DESERVE a good, pain-free life. So when the lines are long, the crowds are large, and things don’t go my way, I get irritated. “This isn’t what I paid for! I deserve better!”
But actually I don’t.
Because everything that I have is truly a gift. I didn’t earn anything. I haven’t paid for squat. Sure, I’m a hard worker but who gave me this brain and this body to work hard? Who provided my family, my friends, my job, my house, my car, and every morsel of food on my plate?
I don’t deserve any of it.
James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
It’s all a gift. Every single day is a free day at Disneyland. This means we are free to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We aren’t owed the perfect day because we didn’t pay for it. Some days just suck. Some seasons of life are just plain crappy. But even on those days, even in the midst of such seasons, there are always things we can be thankful for if we would pause and look around.
We don’t have to go, go, go because Jesus paid for our ticket. We can stroll through the day, stop and listen to the music around us and wonder at the beauty before us. He bought us the freedom to be present. He didn’t remove all the frustrations and disappointments; irritating people and situations are still all around us, but who cares when everything is free?!?
I recently read a devotion from John Piper that reminded me of our Disney day lesson. Piper writes this about gratitude:
When gratitude springs up in the human heart toward God, he is magnified as the wealthy source of our blessing. He is acknowledged as giver and benefactor and therefore as glorious.
But when gratitude does not spring up in our hearts at God’s great goodness to us, it probably means that we don’t want to pay him a compliment; we don’t want to magnify him as our benefactor.
And there is a very good reason that human beings by nature do not want to magnify God with thanksgiving or glorify him as their benefactor. The reason is that it detracts from their own glory, and all people by nature love their own glory more than the glory of God.
At the root of all ingratitude is the love one’s own greatness. For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest. We are cripples leaning on the cross-shaped crutch of Jesus Christ…
I had never before thought about how gratitude is so closely tied to humility. To acknowledge that every good thing in my life is a gift, neither earned or deserved, forces me to let go of my pride and my own sense of greatness. If I am to truly live each day as if it’s a free day at Disneyland, to be full of gratitude and no longer feel entitled to an easy day, well then I must daily remember that Jesus paid for my ticket.
He paid for yesterday.
He paid for today.
He paid for tomorrow.
Every single day is a free day in His magic kingdom. Now if I can just remember that and live like it!