By Jason Wright
Once, in a community quite like yours, a very talented man lived in a large house on a hill with a beautiful wife and a lovely, healthy daughter. As a boy, the man's parents taught him to set goals and to work to achieve them. He was known as the hardest worker in town and was the owner of an extremely successful business.
One day, a humble artist appeared at his front door and offered him what he called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The artist explained that the father would need to walk away from his business and go on a journey to find some missing pieces of art. "They are among the most valuable things in the world. Will you find them?"
In return, the artist promised he would bring the man true happiness and could arrange a place in heaven for both the man and his family. Looking into the man's eager eyes, the artist promised, "You will be with God and your loved ones forever."
"You can do that?" The man asked.
Despite some doubts, the man could not resist the desire to feel this true happiness.
That night at home, the man explained the mysterious offer to his wife and daughter. They had many questions, but they trusted him and wanted to experience happiness together.
The man described the sacrifice necessary and promised that in the end, the prize would be worth it.
They agreed to place their faith in him, as they always had. "We believe in you," they said.
The man left early the next morning and traveled the first day until his legs could not carry him further. He looked in every museum and art gallery. He spoke to experts and students, the wealthy and the poor.
The art was not to be found.
He pressed on, moving from city to city. He traveled by air, boat and train. He did not give up until he'd walked upon every continent.
Still, the art was not to be found.
One evening, lying in bed, he was overcome with sadness at his failure to recover the artist's prized pieces. The man never tasted such failure and could only take a small measure of solace at knowing he hadn't been gone too long or wasted too much time.
The next morning, he rose from his bed with a desire to return home and to see his wife and daughter. He knew it was time to face his family and confront his failure.
His return travels seemed even longer than his quest, and each sunrise brought a greater desire to be with those he loved.
When he returned to his house on the hill, he was surprised to find the house empty and his family missing. The walls were empty, the closets barren and the lights would not turn on.
He began to worry and called out as he moved from room to room. A knock at the front door startled him and he rushed to pull it open.
It was the artist.
"Welcome back, my friend. Did you find my creations?"
The man hung his head. "I did not. I searched everywhere. I exhausted myself and have returned home with nothing."
The artist's wise eyes shone bright. "Do you know how long you were gone?"
The man hesitated. "I think not long. I moved quickly."
"You moved quickly, yes, but you've been gone for years."
The man's jaw dropped. "Years?"
The artist nodded and spoke slowly. "Did you look everywhere?"
The artist motioned into the home. "Did you look here?"
"I did not. You told me to search the world for the most valuable pieces of art. I knew they were not here and so I began my search elsewhere."
The artist smiled.
"What is it?" The man asked. "Where were the pieces of art? Why were they hidden from me?"
"They were never hidden, my friend, they were here where you left them."
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at email@example.com or jasonfwright.com.