Why Contentment Should Be Easy

So I admit it, this year has been challenging. I started 2012 off with the Life Lessons I had learned from the previous year. They were good lessons and, for a few months, I felt like I had them under my belt. That be content thing? Oh yeah. Why wouldn’t you be content when you know nothing but Christ fulfills in this life?

Well, days went by, turning to months, and ending again with another December. The lessons fade along with the memories of mundane tasks performed on a daily basis. All around me there are people who have what I would like and yet take it for granted – aren’t as thankful as they should be… rather like I am with my blessings.

That’s when things get dangerous – when we start looking around and comparing what we’ve got (or want) with what others have. Suddenly, our life takes on a dull tone. One of my journalized notes gets to the root of it –

It’s rather late – I should be asleep already, but things are bothering me. Snuggled under a down comforter, my journal on my lap, I rant about life. One thing after another surfaces like the bubbles from an uncorked champagne bottle.

Life isn’t going my way.

But I already know that. The thing is, even though I know that, I still expect it to! Somewhere inside me, I think I can change my little world into a model utopia and live happily ever after. Isn’t that how it is in the stories we grew up on, the movies we watch? Yeah, there’s always a climax – a bit of an adrenaline rush heart ache to keep us interested – but it resolves in an hour or two leaving the memory to evaporate like star dust in the midnight sky.

As I scribble away, I know where the problem lies. It isn’t what I have or have not, ’cause I know that’s not what makes people happy.  I’ve been comparing my life to their life. In fact, I’m guilt of comparing myself to who I want to be.

What’s crazy is, I know better!

I know the wife of a fabulous husband and mother of a boat load of children isn’t always happy.

I know the “adorable couple” still has struggles like everyone else.

I know the lady down the street who just bought a great home for herself and has a well-paying job isn’t always smelling roses.

And that guy who travels the world and always does the things I want to do? Well, I know he’s just running away from it all like I want to.

I know that the best job, the best husband, the best location, weather, clothes, family, children, etc., will never make us happy.

You know why I know? Because I have it great! I am so blessed. I mean, how many people don’t get to snuggle under a down comforter in a warm house after a hot dinner and rant about their lot in life?

The gifts that many of us have been given are ultimately undeserved—we do not get to
choose if we are born into circumstances that allow us to live in a warm home, eat nutritious
meals, have access to clean water, and receive the chance to pursue an education or a vocation.
~Darling Magazine, Issue 1

I ended the entry with 2 Corinthians 10:12 –

“But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”

So true! Enough of that comparing stuff now!

Last night I opened my Bible to Hebrews 13 and started reading where I had left off the night before. Verses 5 and 6 stopped me in my tracks.

Let your conversation (or conduct) be without covetousness ; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Wow! That’s why we should be content! Because our God and Father told us, I will never leave you or forsake you. What a powerful promise!

Essentially, He’s saying, “Don’t desire what other people have, or even talk about it, My lambs. I’ve got you covered. What else could you possibly need when you have My protection and guidance?”

I was shamed out of my disgusting, comparing discontent. With a God like that, contentment should be easy. And it is, if we don’t allow self to get in the way, if we don’t let our minds wander to compare the goods of others, if we constantly immerse our thoughts with the Word of God.

With an attitude of thankfulness and contentment, we may shout with boldness and confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me!”

That should be reward enough.

Life Lessons 2011

It snowed last night. Not much,  just a dusting over our very dry Oklahoma ground. I think the howling winds blew most of it away before it could land. Just 24 hours of winter, then the sun comes out and melts it away. Nearby waters reflect blue skies and sparkling droplets drip from the eaves.
I sit here musing about time and space. Past memories and future ones. About lessons learned and those that continue. I’m a stubborn one I think. When I’ve finally grasped the concept of a lesson, I find myself back at Page One: Lesson One; Problem A.  Review time…again.
I’m so thankful for this last year. God has been patiently teaching me throughout my life, but this year there was a breakthrough that even I could see – if only dimly through my earthy perspective. I know I’ll have to review these lessons over and over and that I will fail them over and over, but I also know that my God is gracious. That even though the way seems long and hard and it feels like we’re walking backwards most of the time, He still perfects us, growing in us His Kingdom and His purposes.

 But the God of all grace, 
who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, 
after that ye have suffered a while, 
make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, 
settle you. (1 Peter 5:10) Being confident of this very thing, 
that he which hath begun a good work in you 
will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)
Contentment –
Oh, this has been a struggle! It’s incredible how strongly our dreams and desires fight for fulfillment. I went through childhood having no doubts about my future. I would grow up, get married between the ages of 18 and 22 and have six children of my own by my 30th birthday. Until then, I’d simply learn the skills I needed for that worthy calling. 
Other than growing up and looking my 30th birthday squarely in the eye, things didn’t pan out like my child mind anticipated. God’s ways are not always our way that is for sure.
It took me almost 30 years to learn this, but this lesson is invaluable – “Dreams come true” does not equal fulfillment. I see it everyday in my life or in the lives of people around me. Always searching for the next thing, for the something more that will take away the gnawing hunger that we never seem to appease. We can have the best job, the best marriage, the best children, the best life, but none of these make us happy if we are not content with where we were before.
 Be content with such things as ye have: 
for he hath said, 
I will never leave thee, 
nor forsake thee. 
Hebrews 13:5
This lesson was engraved into my mind this summer. I was living a dream, I had a great job that I liked, I was in a place I loved and yet I still found myself laying on my back next to the river and wondering what my purpose was and why I was here. I talk to friends who are happily married and they are asking the same questions I am. They too, are restless. I see people stressing themselves out over business. They barely have time to breath because there must be more. 
Husbands and wives don’t fulfill. 
Jobs don’t fulfill. 
Possessions don’t fulfill.
Only Christ fulfills.
That yearning we feel? It’s not really for more stuff. We are really yearning for a deeper relationship with Christ. We think (the adversary wants us to think) getting what we want will make us happy and we can deaden the throb,  but it wont. Ever.  
I think that ache deep inside will always be there while we live here on earth because it is our innate yearning to be forever with Christ.
However, He can and does satisfy our yearnings if we surrender daily to Him. Surrender our life,  our plans, our dreams and desires, and choose to take joy in the trials, in the mundane, in everything.

 Not that I speak in respect of want: 
for I have learned, 
in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content. 
Phil 4:11
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. 
~ unknown

Joy – 
Ann Voskamps book One Thousand Gifts impacted me more than any other book I read this year. (Elizabeth George’s book Finding God’s Path through Your Trials is also a gem of a read for those seeking joy.) Finding joy in the little things. Choosing joy. It’s an amazing concept. We can choose to be joyful? Really?
Working in a drive thru coffee shop requires a happy face and attitude 100% of the time. 
“I don’t care how bad we are feeling, we have to be happy for the customer”, my boss said. I wasn’t too sure about that at first…after all, wasn’t that being fake? I hate fake. Fake people annoy me and being fake annoys me. And here my job description included “be fake.” Hmm…
I didn’t have to act much on the job, but I thought about this a lot. One work day, I was nearly in tears over something (no need to go into details here. :D), and in that struggle to “look like you’re happy” I realized it wasn’t being fake at all, it was choosing to be joyful. Choosing not to dwell on the negative,  but to give thanks for the little things and move on into Joy.

 Rejoice evermore.

 In every thing give thanks: 
for this is the will of God 
in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thess 5:16 and 18

It also dawned on me that showing, or acting out on, my bad attitude (aka – being “real”?) wasn’t doing anyone any favors (No brainer there, right? :). I remembered, back in the near past, my frequent “bad days” (we’re all allowed to have them aren’t we?)  – moping around the house just being a grouch in general because life wasn’t going my way. (Ties right into contentment doesn’t it!) If anyone asked me what was wrong my mumbled answer would be the all too overused, “Nothing.”.  Here in Idaho I lived with friends for four months on my best behavior (Umm… don’t verify that with them, okay? :) I was ashamed. So friends deserve better treatment than family? 
“Why?”, I hear God asking.”If you can control your attitude around friends, why can’t you control it around family too?” Ouch.  Lesson learned. At least I try to practice that one. :)
Joy is a choice. Happiness is a choice. We can choose our attitude. It’s not how we live, or what we do, what we’re going through, or what people do to us. It’s letting the Holy Spirit in us create Joy. 

Count it all Joy! 
James 1:2

Being –

Life is more about being than about doing.

Abide in me, and I in you. 
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, 
except it abide in the vine; 
no more can ye, 
except ye abide in me. 
John 15:4
In order to do anything for Christ we must first abide in Christ. And actually, that’s all we can do is abide! We can’t grow the fruit, we’re just a branch. It’s Christ in us – it’s the Holy Spirit – that grows the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s not our fruit- it’s His fruit. 
We can toil and sweat and talk all we want, but if Christ isn’t in it, it is worse than purposeless – It is contrary to Him.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him.
Ps. 37:7
Wait on the LORD: 
be of good courage, 
and he shall strengthen thine heart: 
wait, I say, on the LORD. 
Ps. 27:14

I read this quote on a blog the other day and loved it –

“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”
John W. Gardner

We can’t undo our past mistakes, but God can create a masterpiece in spite of them.