One story about the journey toward Contentment
He walked into the kitchen and positioned himself beside me at the sink. I knew instantly what was in store for me. Something I’d heard before. Something I had to brace myself for.
I felt I had no energy left that day to combat the onslaught that was about to ensue. I looked into his blue eyes, and the cascade of words faded. If nothing else, he was completely precious.
His lips were moving as fast as he could talk, and I was catching about every 4th or 5th word. But those eyes… and that fine layer of blonde hair distracted me. I instinctively reached out to touch it. He kept talking without missing a beat.
He loved to be wherever I was; kitchen, office, bedroom. It didn’t matter where. He just wanted to be near me, and even my melting ears didn’t stop me from pausing to appreciate that fact.
I tuned back in to his speech, and my instincts had been right. He wanted something. A very expensive something in this case.
He was young, only 6 or 7 years old at the time, and to say he was (and is) persistent, doesn’t quite cover it. And well,… new, expensive somethings are so much fun! And, I love making life fun for my kids. And, I love having new somethings too; often expensive, new somethings!
But, I also knew that it was my job to teach him and his brother about contentment and restraint and selflessness.
Could I do it?
Could I manage his expectations?
Could I, who had the same temptations and desires, find a way to teach those deeper qualities of resistance and being at peace with a reality that often differs from our dreams? Could I strike a balance between ambition and drive and contentment?
I remembered a fortune cookie I once had. The quote inside read something quite simple, but profound. “The pleasure of what we have is spoiled by the wanting of more”. That quote has stuck with me for many years and in moments like the one I was having, I turned to it again.
I knew then that I had everything I needed. It didn’t mean that my own ‘wantings’ would go away, nor did I expect my young son’s to magically disappear, but I knew that I had the tools to help me teach him to manage those desires. Yes, the fortune cookie did a nice job of summarizing something that was helpful, but the real answer was in God’s word.
Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:11 and following was and still is the first to come to mind for me. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
As a side note, that’s the beauty of taking time to study the Bible. In times where you need it most, it’s right there with you… in your mind and on your heart.
Even if we can’t always recall specific book and chapter, the words and the principles tend to stick with us. (Consider Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
Hebrews 13:5 is another reminder of our greater purpose and the promises given to us. “ Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Contentment, by my definition, is NOT the complete absence of desire or ambition, but it IS a life not spent in needless worry and fruitless pursuit of the elusive, temporary “more” to the detriment of our true calling. In times of extreme ‘wanting’, that verse from Hebrews helps me to remember that the best is yet to come, and my focus should remain there.
Apart from that, when we have the promise of 1 Corinthians 2:9, what can we really want on earth badly enough to distract us for long? “ But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”.
No child or adult, regardless of their current circumstances, is immune to the ‘wanting’. Nearly everything in our path seems to suggest to us that we need more or even deserve more.
Families we see on TV are living in nicer homes and driving newer cars than we are. Our neighbor has a newer cell phone than we do. It is an everyday battle to be content; to be satisfied with what we have. Ah, but there is hope!
It is our relationship with Jesus Christ that centers us and brings our priorities back into clear focus. For those outside of Christ, fighting the ‘wanting’ battle is impossible; but with Christ, perspectives and priorities change and contentment is attainable.
Still, I know it will be a process of teaching and living and not just a single lesson that will ultimately write the ability to enjoy true, Godly contentment on the hearts of my children. I’m just thankful for the Word of God to guide us as we go!
Confession: I hear voices.
Throughout my day, I hear voices in my head that comment on my actions, and, as a result, influence my choices. Sometimes, I even hear the words of the voices coming out of my mouth.
The voices do not frighten me. They are usually comforting. I don’t always agree with them, but they often tell me things I need to be reminded of. As an added bonus, the voices are often right about whatever they are talking about.
Let me be clear, although these are the voices of people other than myself, I realize that they are still, somehow, a part of my psyche. Before you get too many images of an angel and a devil sitting on my shoulders, let me provide some more details.
Who and what do I hear?
I’ll start with my grandmothers’ voices. Both my grandmothers had a daily presence in my life both as a child and as an adult. I lived very close to both while I was growing up.
During college and into adulthood, they remained people I called (or who called me) consistently. One of them got up VERY early in the morning. We’re talking 4:00/4:30am. The other was more of a late night person. She would easily still be up at 10:30pm.
Regardless of the time I was driving into work (like the time I was going in at 5:45am) or the times I was up with a newborn or sick child, there was at least one of them who was available by phone.
One of them made these delicious, traditional candies and cookies each year in December. I had her teach me how to make them when I was a young teenager. Once her energy wouldn’t allow her to make them (it took an entire day of constant work to get them all done), I picked up the torch and began doing it.
Even now, I make them, faithfully, each year. I call it my annual memorial to my grandmother. While I’m making them, I can literally hear her voice, still giving me instructions. “Those are too big, Katherine. Don’t get in a hurry. Make them smaller. That’s perfect.”
Who else do I hear?
I took piano lessons for about 8 years when I was younger. The teacher I had for the majority of those years was a very kind and disciplined lady. She would write all kinds of notes on my piano music to remind me of ways to play better.
There were the little eyes with glasses that reminded me to “look out” for a transition that tripped me up. There were the finger numbers written in to help the piece flow more smoothly. I still have and play some of that music; her writing still there.
However, when I’m playing (or, now, coaching my daughters as they are learning to play) I hear my piano teacher saying things like “Pay attention to phrasing and dynamics. You want to make the piano talk, not just push the keys.” and “Curve your fingers!” I even hear myself quoting her words. It drives my daughters crazy.
I also hear one of my past bosses, each of my parents, and friends who I used to spend lots of time with. It matters not that the people are still living or dead. Statements like these come into my head, through another person’s voice, from time to time:
- “Collaboration takes longer, but it is a better way to work.”
- “Have you gone to her?” (this said if I’m having difficulty working with someone)
- “The greatest distance between hope and despair is a good night’s sleep.”
- “When everything else in your life is uncomfortable, your clothes shouldn’t be.”
- “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
I find that the voices I hear most frequently are those of people I spent (or spend) a considerable amount of time with. This can also work against me, though. If I’ve spent time with someone or something (think Facebook, certain magazines or TV shows) that is discouraging to me, I can tend to hear those messages again, too.
These negative messages are often heard in my own voice. The psychological world would call this “negative self-talk.” I know these messages don’t always originate with me, but are instead triggered by someone or something that challenges my security. These are the voices I want to silence:
- “You didn’t say that well. She’s probably mad at you.”
- “They probably think you don’t care.”
- “He thinks you aren’t very smart. I can’t believe you did that!”
- “You aren’t doing enough.”
- “You look frumpy. Why don’t you spend more time on clothing?”
Aaaaah! Just writing those statements makes me cringe, both because I’ve shared them (out loud) and because they can be so damaging to my perspective.
Why do I tell you all this?
I’ve learned that if I want to maximize the encouraging messages and minimize the negative, crippling messages I have to be more intentional about what I expose myself to. I have to train my brain to listen to Jesus’ voice above all else.
Next, I have to seek out and spend time with people who are encouraging and make wise decisions.
Finally, I have to minimize my exposure to negative, discouraging messages that distract me from my focus of getting to heaven, whether they come from media, other people or my own negative self-talk.
If we know Jesus’ voice, we will hear it in our heads. We will be able to distinguish His voice from the other, competing voices.
John 10:2-4 says “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
A little further in that same chapter, John goes on to quote Jesus saying “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Now, I love a good metaphor, but they don’t speak to everyone. No pun intended. Allow me to clarify the passage I just mentioned. We (humans) are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. The door and gate are the way to eternal life, eternal security, for our souls.
How can we let God’s voice (and His son, Jesus’) become familiar to us? How can we know it so well that we will hear it, recognize it, and allow it to call us away from other things?
First, we have to approach Him. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.
There are plenty of other examples of this message in the Bible, but I chose this one because it is so concise and to the point. Another one to look at is Proverbs 2: 1-5 that talks about seeking wisdom and sound guidance like a hidden treasure.
Next, we have to soften our hearts and minds to really hear what He has to say and filter out all the other voices of distraction. This will build a real faith.
Romans 10 :17 “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”
As I mentioned, surrounding myself with encouraging people and messages (yes, there are positive messages in media!) will make the voices I hear more positive. There are so many people who will also build my faith and point me to Jesus and the message of the Bible. These are the messages I need to dwell on as much as possible.
I’ve found that I have to be pretty intentional about what is coming into my mind. It is so easy to go through life just watching what is in front of me. Just reading what is in front of me. Just clicking on the link that is in front of me. Just staring at my phone. Ouch. Those are hard choices to make.
These are daily, minute by minute choices I have to make sometimes. And these are just some of the ways that those negative voices get into my head. Very sneaky, isn’t it?
Comparing myself to others’ standards and the world’s standards will only lead me to feeling prideful, or even more uncomfortable, discouraged and inadequate. I must minimize these negative messages. They put distance between me and Jesus. I can’t draw near to Him if I’m distanced from Him. I am enough for Jesus if I am diligently seeking Him and doing my best to obey God’s Word.
If you aren’t recognizing Jesus’s voice above all the others, perhaps it’s time to get to know Him better.
“Are we there yet?”
“How much longer?”
“This is taking forever.”
For any parent, these are the words which make you cringe. Normally, these phrases from our children occur 15 minutes into an 8 hour road trip. It doesn’t matter that you prepared your children days, and sometimes months, prior to departure that this will be a long trip. All of your efforts aimed at trying to avoid these very questions are for naught.
There isn’t really a good answer to these questions. Think about it. What could you possibly say that would be a satisfactory response? For me, I have generally answered these questions by using 1 of the following methods:
-The obvious answer. “No.”
-The flat-out denial. “I don’t know.”
-The sarcastic response. “Does it look like we are there yet?”
Surprisingly, after all of these responses, my children still continue to ask. It is after several rounds of this that I finally come to my senses, speak a little softly, and say something along these lines:
“Not yet, we are getting close, and once we get there, the wait will be worth it.”
It’s then that I realize my children aren’t trying to annoy me but rather, they are excited to reach the destination. They aren’t being impatient as much as they are looking forward to something great.
Whether it’s a trip to the beach or an amusement park, these destinations offer activities which aren’t available to them at home. Once you arrive, the questions being asked by your children on the way are forgotten, and you are finally able to see that the wait was worth it.
However, all things eventually must come to an end. The trip can’t last forever and ends as quickly as it arrived. All of the planning, saving money, and anticipation of this great trip are now replaced with the knowledge of going back to your normal schedule.
While we are thankful for our jobs and homes, a part of us wishes we didn’t have to come back to these things. We may spend the next few days thinking about where we were and looking forward to coming back.
What if I told you there is a similar place where you didn’t have to come back? Jesus describes a place like this in John 14:2-3:
“In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
When will we be able to go to this place? It will take awhile. These words Jesus spoke were written over 2000 years ago and yet; these words are written to us today letting us know there is a place where we’ll never have to leave.
If you think about it, our journey to this place is just like a family trip. It will take some time to get there. In fact, some of us may utter the same words we have heard from our children.
“Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “This is taking forever.”
And, as we constantly ask these questions, I can imagine Jesus calmly answering like this.
“Not yet. You are getting close and once you get here, the wait will be worth it.”
“You are perishable. Live accordingly.”
A rough, square piece of painted wood with these five words on it hangs in my house. My husband and I found this little sign with its simple, thought-provoking statements in a rough-around-the-edges antique/junk store in North Carolina. We didn’t see a duplicate of it and were drawn to it. It really summed up how we try to live our lives – with a long view.
Beginning with the end in mind is not a thought process unique to me or my husband, by any means. This approach, as I’ll call it, has implications in my daily life, whether I’m at work or around the house, making what seems like thousands of daily choices. Most importantly, though, this approach directly relates to my spirituality and what I’m looking forward to.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. You might be thinking, “Is she going to talk about the benefits of planning ahead?”
If you are thinking that, well, you are partly right, but it really doesn’t matter if you are a “planner” or more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person.
Stick with me, though, as I talk about these two short statements and what they mean to me.
First, I am perishable. What does that even mean?? Most of the time, we hear the opposite of that word: nonperishable. As in, “Bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the food pantry.”
As I have explained to my children (and I’m sure many of you have done the same) this simply means “food that doesn’t go bad or spoil quickly.” So, examples they throw out are canned goods, boxes of cereal and peanut butter. Yeah, yeah. You know what I mean and probably wonder why I’m still explaining this.
I like details. I like to be clear. Moving on…
So, perishable, then, means just the opposite – it is something that is likely to spoil or decay quickly. Merriam-Webster goes so far as to say that perishable means “not likely to stay fresh for a long time if not used.” This means don’t be taking bananas to a food drive!
Now, if I really apply that to myself (“You are perishable”) it doesn’t feel so good, does it? I mean, I know it’s true – I’m not going to last forever. Our bodies just aren’t designed to go on and on forever.
This is sobering, unsettling, and, frankly, kind of a downer. I don’t enjoy dwelling on that fact for long. Let’s continue.
“Live accordingly.” Live according to what?
…To that rather uncomfortable reality I was just going on about…that I’m not going to live on this earth for a really long time. I’m not even guaranteed a certain amount of time, for that matter. It’s kind of like buying a gallon of milk without an expiration date printed on it. How long will it last?
So, how does this change the way I live? Well, it makes me think a little more about many of my choices.
Sometimes, it saves me money. Sometimes, it requires that I deny myself something that I think I want. Sometimes, it makes me tired to think so much.
Let me see if I can give you an example. Ever since I started my first “real,” adult job, I’ve pretty routinely saved a fixed portion for when I retire or just need a large chunk of money unexpectedly (Think, new tires or new air conditioning unit).
No, I didn’t really need to worry about retiring when I was twenty-four. (I’m not twenty-four anymore, by the way.) Planning for this inevitable “end” to the go-to-work part of my life is something I hear is good to plan for, though. I live according to the fact that my working for paydays will eventually, I hope, end.
Still with me?
Good. Well stay with me because I’m about to take it to the next level. So get ready.
I’m not really that smart or disciplined or “good” to think this way and try to practice planning for what is to come. The truth is, I was lucky to be reared by parents who worked this way.
My daddy always challenged my brother and me to think about the impact of what we did. I mean, on Everything. We. Did.
It was a bit irritating as a child and a teenager to listen to him explain in painstaking detail why we were to, say, stack the firewood a certain way or cover the vehicle seats with towels or move the furniture in such a way as to not twist or damage it.
Let’s just say my daddy knows how to make things last and how to think toward the future. He’s also the one who taught me to save for retirement when I was twenty-four.
Once I got a little older, all these little “teachable moments” from my daddy began to make so much more sense. If, at the beginning of a project, I think about the end or the outcome of it, my approach changes slightly. I may not always get what I want immediately, but, if I am looking towards the end result, I know that I will eventually get what I really want.
In fact, what I really want may be even better than the short term, quicker result.
This is certainly not very popular by our society’s expectations. I mean, how many opportunities do I have every day for instant gratification? If I remember that I need to send a gift to my nephew for his birthday, I can simply browse, select, order, pay and ship right from my phone.
My children have no idea of what it means to wait for a favorite television program to come on. They simply watch it, literally, on demand or set the DVR to record it so it is available whenever they want it. This is why we sometimes watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas in July.
Of course, this convenience doesn’t do a lot for building patience or perseverance in me OR my children. We don’t have to wait for very much if we don’t want to.
Some things, however, do require a wait or some type of forethought. Not all things are available “on demand.”
The Bible is full of teachings about planning ahead, most of them directly speaking to the need to plan for the judgement day. I want to focus on one, in particular, that I think mirrors the message on my rough little wooden sign.
II Corinthians 4:16-5:1 says,
“Therefore, we do not lose heart, even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house (physical body), this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” [emphasis mine]
The phrases I bolded tell me directly that my physical self is temporary. It is perishable. This also tells me that there is something eternal for me, for us, even after our “tent” is destroyed.
The Bible tells me how to live according to my perishable state. If I do what it says, I will get to experience that “house not made with hands” that will not spoil or perish.
Yes, maybe it is because I’m getting old that I’m thinking about all of this. It could even be because of all the instability and violence in the world that we are becoming more keenly aware of every day.
Whatever it is, I know I need to live according to the fact that I am perishable. I have an expiration date. I have to begin each day thinking about my temporary state and what the Bible says is required to spend eternity in heaven. Then, I have to DO what it says.
What I choose today has an impact on my someday. I get a daily reminder of this when I look at my little sign each morning and each evening. It is hanging right beside my bathroom mirror.
I encourage you to look at the direction of your life and your daily choices. Do they reflect the certainty that you are perishable?