I have been thinking about contentment lately.
Partly because my 50th birthday is days away.
But mostly because I am stuck here in the U.S., unable to get back into Guatemala.
The borders are closed due to COVID-19.
And it is very uncertain when they will open again.
So I am not where I want to be, at least physically.
But I have wrestled with contentment my whole life – and particularly through my late 20’s and all the way into my early 40’s.
As my friends got married one by one.
And then started having babies.
And did “real life” – or, at least, what I had assumed my life would look like. Or “should” be.
But life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
But a whole lot of wrestling with God.
And a whole lot of ministry that would not have happened if I had been given the ministry of my own family to care for and children to raise.
In all of that, I have learned a few things about contentment along the way. Here are the lessons that I am applying even today, as the birthday looms and the borders stay closed:
Lesson One: Biblical contentment is not the absence of desire. It is the submission of my desires to the will of God.
We were wired by God to want certain things. To have desires. That is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. And those desires are not wrong in and of themselves. Of course, I am not talking about temptation and desires that are sinful. But good things – a spouse, children, relationships with people, places and experiences, even the desire for dessert – these are not inherently wrong. It is OK to want what you want.
But what do you do when God doesn’t give you what you want? (Or what you think you want.)
That is where contentment comes in to play.
Paul said it this way in his letter to the church at Philippi:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
I am sure that when Paul was hungry, he desired food.
But when that food was not available, he surrendered himself to God.
He didn’t let the desire keep him from trusting that God loved him. Was in control. Was able.
He LEAREND contentment.
Submitting himself, his circumstances and his desires to the will of God.
He talks about his desires again in his letter to the church at Corinth. He explains to them that he begged God three times to remove “a thorn in the flesh”. He doesn’t name the thorn, but most biblical scholars think it had to do with his failing eyesight. In several of his letters he alludes to issues with his vision and attributes the physical act of writing them to a scribe.
Did Paul know that God could heal him? (Or grant him the request to remove the “thorn”, whatever it was?
Yes, of course!
This is the same man who wrote to the church at Ephesus that God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think”! Paul believed in the power of God. He saw God use him to heal people and to utter prophecies that came true. Paul even was able to shake off a deadly snake that was biting his hand without harm.
Yes, Paul knew and had experienced God’s power.
It is why he asked for the removal of the thorn in the first place!
But when God said, “No” each time, Paul accepted it.
He submitted his desires to the will of God.
And he even declared that this “failure” on God’s part was a blessing – that in Paul’s weakness, God could show himself to be strong.
Contentment isn’t a feeling. It is the active surrender of my desires to the will of God.
Lesson Two: Choose to be aggressively, unstoppably and determinedly thankful for what you DO have.
I long to be back in Guatemala. School starts next week, and while we are doing online school for the foreseeable future, I still long to be in country where I could help my kids one-on-one in person when they need it. Where my resources are easily accessible. And mostly, to be in the place God called me.
It is a strong desire. One that I have to submit daily to the will of God.
I am praying that He allows me back in country sooner rather than later.
(Specifically, I am praying for it to be by September 15.)
But until He opens that door, I WILL praise Him in the hallway.
I WILL be thankful for what He has done.
I WILL be thankful that I have friendships in Guatemala that make my heart long to be there. That I have people to miss. That I have a fulfilling job calling me back there.
And I WILL be thankful for the extra time with the people I love here in the U.S.
For access to different food choices.
For the ability to speak fluently to store clerks.
For God’s provision that I have seen over and over and over again.
It is the thankfulness that keeps the bitterness at bay.
It is the thankfulness that re-centers my heart on faith rather than my feelings.
It is thankfulness for my circumstances that leads to praise.
Lesson Three: Praise God, no matter what.
Thankfulness is about specific blessings He has given.
But praise is about His character.
Who He is.
Not just what He has done.
None of us want to be loved exclusively for what we have done.
We want to be loved for who we are.
And that is also true of God.
There are times when I cannot trace His hand.
I cannot see what He is doing.
And I do not understand His ways.
But even when He befuddles me, I can remember His character.
That His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3)
That there has never been a God like Him, who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)
That this life is so very short and eternity is so very long. And when this life is done, I will be with Him forever, every desire met in who He is. Every longing fulfilled by His presence. Every mystery will either be explained, or it will not matter anymore.
Satan desperately wants us to forget the goodness of God.
He wants us to question God’s love.
And His integrity.
He wants us to stack up our perceived evidence of God’s faithlessness to us because we have desires God has not fulfilled.
It was the lie in the Garden of Eden that tripped up Eve.
And it is the lie that takes us down today: “God is not good. He doesn’t know what He is doing. He is holding out on you and you cannot trust Him.”
Praise is the antidote to the lie.
Because when I fix my eyes on Him, my Abba Father, the God who rescued me from sin and rescues me from myself, chains are broken.
Lies are silenced.
And my heart is lifted.
It is easier to trust.
It is easier to hear His still, small voice.
It is easier to confidently rest in His goodness – in the TRUTH that God is good and everything He does is right.
That He is God and I am not.
And that I can yield my desires to His perfect Father heart.
There have been many times that kids I love have asked me for things that they really, really want.
And I have said “No” for their own good.
Because I had a bigger picture in mind than they could see.
I have allowed children I love to suffer.
At the hands of doctors.
At the hands of school officials.
And even at my own hand.
I have given failing grades.
Kept kids in from recess.
Not allowed them to eat any more.
Told them they had to wait.
Not allowed that field trip, that party, that event.
Because I love them.
And because I know that their desires are not always in their best interest.
So I face birthday number 50 and the fact that I don’t know when I will get back to Guatemala the same way.
I surrender my desires to His will.
I choose thankfulness.
And I choose praise.
My Daddy in heaven has said “No” to many of my desires.
But I can see in so many cases where that “No” was for the best.
And where I can’t see that, I have learned to trust Him.
To wait for Him.
To keep seeking His heart even when I long for His hand to move.
Because He is good. And everything He does is right.