Posts Tagged ‘contentment’

Since I retired in December, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I felt a rare freedom to go and do as I wanted. I have been to Zambia, to California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Denver, Estonia, and even back home to Indianapolis for a 50th high school reunion. Gods timeEach place has a story and now a memory. But it’s time to take a breath. A real breath. It’s time to examine “here.”

In some ways, I sound a bit like my 91 year old mother, just months before she died, she wondered aloud, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She still felt she had something to give and something to do. But for her, it was a dis-ease with her present.

I want to change that pattern. Before I venture into too many tomorrows, I want a better assessment of today.

I don’t want my next day to come out of a place of dissatisfaction, as though this moment is wanting. I desire this day to be full of the awareness of God and a confidence in the Holy Spirit within to enrich my inner being.

This week, I have been chewing on Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation : Following the Movements of the Spirit. As he says, it is time to convert chronological time into “kairos” or God’s time, where “past, present, and future merge in the present moment. . . The spiritual life, therefore, is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.”

Jesus was able to “be” in any setting with every person because He could “see” beyond the surface of what he/she presented to the world. Just as the doctor can hear the beating heart through a stethoscope, Jesus could hear and see the fluttering soul.

Where is just another Here.

Well, that sounds a little bit like my old favorite show, Kung Fu, and me speaking like an Eastern mystic. That makes me laugh, Grasshopper.

But seriously, some pieces are falling into place and I am experiencing a type of contentment that I have not known before. From here, I will find my way.

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characterBasic definition of character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But there are others and among those definitions is “an account of qualities or peculiarities of a person–“. In this election year and climate, character has been a constant topic of conversation, from good to bad, true or false, kind to selfish, dependable to undependable and so forth. We are all, looking outward, asking, “do we see fruit in the lives of the candidates that reflects their true nature, or their character?” But perhaps, it’s time to ask these same questions of ourselves. 

I have always maintained, put a microscope on someone and you’ll always find something, some tarnish or blotch, some surprise or another. Can I tolerate the same? Not hardly. So, who am I kidding? This public evaluation will probably be somewhat cursory at best.

So what is the question? How do I stack up to the “image” or character of God (as in Genesis 1:26, made in God’s image)? The list I was given only had 24, alphabetically, we only go through the letter “F.” I found another website that lists 49 character traits. My guess is that the list could go on and on and on.

Let me pick three then, that I can somewhat safely say I have demonstrated: endurance, initiative, and thoroughness. Notice: I had to go all over the alphabet list. Here’s what happens when I try to identify a positive character trait, I name one and the first thing that comes to mind is the time I didn’t reflect that very well. And then another and another. So, scratch that one. Oh, well, just look at the overall feature, my mind says, but still I can’t get past it, the murmur of “liar, liar.”

image-of-godI can claim these three just because they speak to the last two years of my life, reinventing myself as a widow, enduring the loss and the sorrow, initiating new routines and lifestyle (even selling and buying a house), and then tackling all the little jobs that are now all mine, working to make those efforts the best they can be. But have I embraced the Presence of God in the midst of these traits as I walked them out? Not as much as I should have. Much of these are part of my nature (my family background and the influence of my mother). I know that. And yet, I also know, then the gas ran out in my energy, God was there, filling up my tank. Things might have been easier had I used God’s gas all along. Hindsight reveals much.

But out of this list, what do I really need to develop? With a conscious choice, what can I put in front of myself, like a post-it, if necessary, and say to myself: go here first.

pooh-contentmentContentment. This is not about never trying or working toward a goal, but it is saying yes to now, today, this moment, this life.
Gratefulness. And so, along with contentment must come gratitude, for what has been given and what will be given.
Patience. With some hesitation I bring this forth. Everyone says, never ask for patience, for the circumstances that demand patience will come in a flood. But, honestly, hasn’t that already happened? And isn’t patience the sister of contentment and gratefulness? I think so.

Where do I see these traits practiced? Here’s the worst confession of all. I’m not sure I know people well enough to know if they are operating in these qualities day to day. I know the courage of several acquaintances who went through challenging cancer treatments, I saw in them these qualities wrapped inside the fight for life. What charges me up is their ability to be bold and yet patient at the same time, to be confident and yet grateful, to be determined and yet content with truth.

CGP are not passive at all. That’s the clue I have about them. They are conscious. They are a choice. They are a team. And I choose to be in. Some call this mindfulness and to some degree, awareness as well. Stay awake!

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broken memoriesI, more than others perhaps, know that memories are not in objects or things. And yet, there are a few items that are saturated with symbols and pictures of a time past.

 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory . . . [II Peter 1:12-13a]

Yesterday, by accident, one of my adult children was helping me by washing a high window and a soapstone sculpture that had been there for some years fell over and broke, not shattered, but broken into enough pieces that it is not repairable. They were not inclined to tell me, I know, for my husband had hand carried it home from one of his first missionary journeys to Zambia.

sattler 1

Photo by Steve Sattler

When Mike brought the thing home we were still only a family of four and I noted that the carving was a representation of a family of five. I had given him a hard time about it, thinking he didn’t even notice the difference. He demurred, as he often did, that he felt compelled to get that one, a kind of holy tug. And so, it found a home in the window and was forgotten in its familiarity.

But then, a few years later, our lives did take a turn and we adopted a teen from Russia, hence we were five after all.

In this past year, as our family has struggled with a different kind of brokenness when Mike died, a photographer friend (at my request) gave me one of his images that touched my heart deeply, capturing what it felt like to have one of our family leaning away from us.

This week, my youngest son moves out of our family home into a new life; my oldest son is in the Navy and will soon be posted to San Diego; and my daughter is expecting her first child in a few weeks. Life moves on.

So, when the soapstone carving broke, a little place in my heart hiccuped. I even thought about trying to glue it back together again, but then I just knew, it’s not really broken. In order for new things to grow, the seed must die in the ground, stop being a seed and become something else entirely.

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This text caught me off guard today. I’ve always thought of “the world” as those “things” that suck me away from the heart of God. But it’s not the things at all. It’s the verbs in me. Just like we mistake money as evil when it’s the “love of money” that is the problem: so it is with everything else.

I John 2:16
For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man [or woman], the lust of his [her] eyes and the boasting of what he [she] has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.
[NIV, 1984]

It’s my intentions, my desires, my personal cravings that drive me into the world. I see and then I want. I listen and then I desire. I remember and then I pine for the source of that memory. I am Edmund (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe).

Craving is an intense desire. Do I crave God or what God can do for me?

Among the definitions for lusting (beyond the obvious sexual context) is a “passionate or overmastering desire or craving, usually followed by a lust for power.” At my age, sex is not much of a driver, but power, well, who am I kidding if I say that has no enticement? In my head, I know it’s the antithesis of all things Christ, and yet I know it’s there, waiting for the cage door to open and spring out. I think it’s married to another secret desire I have had throughout the years: Fame. It has tainted every venture. It has muddied every project. And lust laughs every time.

Boasting has two elements: one is exaggeration and the other is pride. Hence, in subsequent translations of this verse, it is wrapped up in a single phrase, “the pride of life.” It’s simple really, like a two-year old who insists on “doing it alone.” In some ways, I can see the root of it in the disappointments of my early years where there didn’t seem to be anyone to truly guide. My mother was caught in her own web of pride and self-control. From her perspective, if she didn’t do the work, no one would. If she didn’t make it happen, it wouldn’t happen. And this “gift” she passed along with a vengeance.

Again, the head knows all of this intellectually. But the soul cries out to surrender, to trust, to let go, to accept, to embrace contentment, to engage the interior life and not the ephemeral cravings, lustings, and boastings of the ads in the New York Times, the promotions, the landscaped yards, the exquisite furniture, the honor roll students, the wine cellars, the brilliant geeks, the skinny models, the tech toys, the romances, the published authors, the movies, the stars, the travel guides, the vistas, the sailboats, the beach houses, the Old Spice man, and even the full breed dogs and cats. Stupid, right?

I want, I wish, I desire. I crave, I lust, I boast.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” [Luke 14:7-11]

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Contentment can turn into complacency if not tempered by the presence of God. While the drive for monetary success can override smaller, gentler ways and cause discontent, sorrow, or grief. Success, fame, renown . . . they are also cut from the same cloth as the love of money.

I Timothy 6:6, 10
But godliness with contentment is great gain. . . . For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Two sides of a coin are represented in this brief passage.

On one side, I see the importance of adding godliness to the formula for contentment. So many people have taken contentment to mean “door mat” or satisfaction with misrepresentation. Neither of these are correct. True contentment is wrapped up in trust first and sensitized to the Spirit within that trust wrapper. When we cannot change a situation, then we must trust God to know and impact it in God time. And when we can change a situation, then we must move according to the stirrings from the Holy Spirit, moving at a non-human speed. That’s how contentment and godliness work together.

On the other side of my coin is too much action with the wrong motivation. It’s change for the sake of personal gain alone. It’s living a deception and for this reason, it brings grief, for once the money or fame or notoriety are achieved, truth is lost and in many cases, the people who mattered most are cast away while the secret dream that had nothing at all to do with money is forgotten.

Sometimes, acclaim comes without an expectation or specific desire for it. Sometimes, it’s a by-product because a person acted out of pure motive and devotion. It can happen. But not often.

For me, I have known none all and none. Griefs have come and I have felt the piercings. Mostly, because of my fears of not having money. And so, there is a holding or misuse of money, a drive to protect what I do have. It colors my world and I don’t like it, but I am hard-pressed to let go. I am hard-pressed to experience contentment within the confines of what is: this much money and no more; this lifestyle and not another; this security and not that other one; this way for now and not another way.

Grief comes with loss and how interesting to be warned of loss in the midst of “financial gain.” Another scriptural paradox!

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Photo by KarenBeth

Oh contentment, you elusive partner. I have lost you again and you have become a stranger. What happened to us? We were together only a few weeks ago.

Philippians 4:12-13
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Slow down. I’ve got to slow down. No, it’s more than a slow-down.

Today, I read a newspaper article about stuttering and how stutterers feel the world moves on without them as they are caught in a vortex of a word that refuses to be spoken, caught in the mouth, unyielding.

Chaos and busyness are the same for me. I am on a treadmill and I am making no progress forward. I am working hard, but the world continues to whirl past me. No matter how fast I move, everything else moves faster. I am a life stutterer, repeating my mistakes, stumbling at another threshold.

Contentment has two parts: stopping without remorse and watching without guilt.

When I stop, time and situations continue to spin. I understand it all intellectually. At first, I am overwhelmed and then slowly, the longer I stay in a moment of stillness, I can differentiate tasks, colors, and sounds. As I tolerate this state a little longer, clarity and priorities do emerge. This is when I can let go of non-essentials.

I’ve been through this process before. But I cannot seem sustain it.

When I am doing, I must “do” 100%, and not think or plan the next thing, the next event, the next task. There can be joy in the doing if it is the right activity for the moment, fully experienced.

And sometimes, there is no doing at all. But I find these times the hardest. I see what needs to be done around me: the unfinished tasks of yesterday, the collected piles of trouble and responsibility. How can I “just be” when there is so much “to do?”

There is no going back, I can only go forward. This morning, I stole the hour to pray and write. It’s grounding. I can start with this. It’s all I have for now.

Take a breath. Exhale slowly. And when I stand up from this chair, I will be gentle with my stuttering life. I will give the next thing time to form fully. It’s a day and it’s part of my story.

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Power in the basics. There is such a simplicity to the message: love God, love others. One builds on the other. One is enhanced by the other. And along the way, the love itself creates a momentum for the ages. Love is like energy: it never disappears.

I Corinthians 13:8a, 13
Love never fails. . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I know about energy intellectually, but it’s not something I think about every day. Energy is bouncing around us all the time. Energy is transformed from one state to another, always moving, morphing, or actively waiting. And so is love.

This is how love never fails. Love is resilient and creative. Love is strong and gentle. Love is comfortable in the world of paradox.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. And instead of harnessing it, we have cheapened it with images of Valentine hearts, cupids, and “Precious Moments” figurines. We have allowed love to become sex. We have watered down the strength of love.

But it is still there. Love is still available, because love never fails. Love is not just the words. Love is a space where energy can flow back and forth. I can’t really love pizza, it’s an inanimate object.

God is love [I John 4:8]. God is light [I John 1:5]. God is energy. God cannot be destroyed. To love others is to “god” others.

If we want to introduce God to others, then we’d better start at the ground level with love. And if we’re not sure what that means, then we need to learn I Corinthians 13 by heart, ground it in the heart, move it through the heart: kindness, generosity, patience, humility, caring, calm, soothing, forgiving, unassuming, and contented.

Love is a practice.

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