Some people think that contentment is framed by circumstance. And they may be right. This past Saturday I was cleaning the window frames in my house. As I removed dead bugs and dirt from the past summer, the giggles of light-hearted neighborhood kids playing in leaf piles sounded in my ears.
Behind me, I caught the smile and soft baby-babble of my sweet Cariann (then eight-months old). Turning back to my tedious task with a lingering smile, I felt the surge of gratitude course through my being. I felt content. I was actually enjoying myself. How could this be?
After all, there’s a reason I choose to do this tedious cleaning only twice a year. Yet there I was, feeling content right in the middle of the mundane. If it meant that I could delight in my daughter’s presence like that, I’d wash my window frames more often.
Contentment in the Midst of Struggle
Again and again in scripture, biblical characters experience contentment amidst struggle or difficulty in ways that go beyond just circumstance.
- Daniel was content while in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:23).
- Ruth was content to live with her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17).
- King David was content to live in the wilderness rather than in his rightful palace. (Psalm 63:1-8).
- Paul was content regardless of his situation of imprisonment (Phil. 4:11).
- James and Peter also knew contentment when they too experienced trials and troubles of many kinds (James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6).
- Most amazing of all, Jesus was content to sit silently before Pilate and to go willingly to his death on the cross, even though all the angels of heaven waited for his command (Matthew 26:53, 27:14).
This kind of contentment runs deeper than circumstance.
Some would say it is a person’s positive attitude that gives frame to contentment. That living with the glass half-full brings a general sense of positive regard toward life. Yet, doing so cannot change the reality of life’s difficult situations.
- My fall-time allergies don’t just disappear because I positively seize upon the beauty of yellowing Aspens this time of year.
- As much as I may try to cast a positive light on my exhaustion from a driven ministry-life by proof-texting away pain or spiritualizing successes, its ill-effects still impact my family relationships and intimacy with God.
- Regardless of how hard and long I focus on the happy memories, cancer still stole my Dad’s life.
- No matter how rosy a landscape I try to paint, the dissidence of life’s entropic crabgrass, foxtail, and dandelion will still pinch and prowl the landscape again next spring.
To say otherwise, is simply out of touch with reality. If we are to truly enjoy the full places of life’s blessings, we sometimes need to also have spaces for seeing life as half empty. If we only focus our leadership and relationships on sunshine, chickadees, and tiny little seahorses, life will at best remain only half full. Or, at its worst, such pretentious, positive, posturing will likely set the stage for our self-sabotage. Neither result embraces the rich and satisfying life Jesus intends for us (John 10:10).
Framing a Life-Giving Perspective
Those of our spiritual mothers and fathers in Scripture who found contentment, regardless the situation, did so by trusting God to do the framing. Instead of becoming self-focused, relying on themselves to muster strength for, or an escape from, life’s difficult situations, their lifestyles were God-focused. They relied on His steadfast love and faithfulness to frame their predicament and perspective. Rather than restlessly seizing the illusion of control or pointing to pretty performances, they humbly trusted God to provide and posture their hearts, right in the midst, to restfully receive from Him.
Consider these examples again. The Bible tells us that:
- Amidst the lions, Daniel trusted God.
- While grieving the loss of her husband, Ruth made her mother-in-law’s God her own.
- While Saul sought to kill him, David calmed himself by putting his hope in the LORD.
- When there was not enough food to eat, Paul saw Jesus as his strength.
- In the brutality of persecution, James and Peter trusted God to prevail.
- Faced with betrayal and rejection, a brutal beating, and the crucifixion, Jesus prayed, ‘not my will, but thy will be done’.
St. Augustine’s prayer, from his Confessions, captures this well when he prayed, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
As we walk through this Thanksgiving week, may we become more mindful of what is framing our perspective and our experience of life, ministry, and relationships. May we gratefully wait upon God’s goodness whatever our situation— be it mundane or magnificent— and, right in the midst, receive life-giving perspective and rest from Him. May we also experience His embrace and leadership releasing us to a lifestyle of contentment framed within His unfailing love and faithfulness in Christ.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (Romans 12:1, MSG)”