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Archive for the ‘contentment’ Category

Light Pollution

Too much of a good thing? I’d never thought of it before, with regards to light.

Light is good, of course. I live in Florida. I’m happy living in a place where the sun shines pretty much year round. I don’t want to live in a part of the country or even a house with too little light.

But, what about having too much light? I love the sunshine all day, most every day. I don’t, however, love the sunshine enough to want it all night.

I’d never really stopped to ponder that thought until today when I read a mini review of a book called: Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark.

I love the light, but I have no interest in giving up the beauty of the night, either. The moon has been exceptionally brilliant in my night sky this week. I’ve enjoyed hanging out laundry or sitting on my porch looking at it.  But night here can never compare to places in Africa where I’ve lived, where the moon and stars did not have to compete with artificial light.

One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was an eclipse in a town without electricity. To start out with a moon that was so bright you could see shadows, and then transition through smaller and smaller shadows until there was complete darkness, and then back again to the moon’s brightness. I remember it being a great way to spend a few hours.

Well, now I’m starting to wax nostalgic and wander from the point of this post.

The book I mention above is a collection of essays celebrating the gifts of night and darkness, mourning some of the losses that happen when night is artificially interrupted and drawing analogies to the rest of our lives from the importance of darkness.

I’ve not read the book. This quote, however, has given me something to ponder while I’m out running errands today:

Our desire for meaning keeps us reaching for greater clarity and luminosity. But we confound lucidity with kilowatts. We confuse artificial light with enlightenment. Therein lies a greater fear: that we humans might be so afraid of darkness that we, for a time, would destroy it, thus banishing the illumination that darkness brings.

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Can Do

Some time ago, I asked people to contribute their favorite (or least favorite, most likely) verses taken out of context. I don’t know what I expected. Probably to laugh about how hideously some Scriptures are distorted.

I didn’t expect how badly it would hurt to consider the fact that these misquotes are used in really awful ways that cause real hurt to real people. Instead of following that post up in the way I had originally intended, I ended up writing “When Hope Wears Mourning,” which was an expression of some of the cries of my heart in response to the comments from the previous post as well as some of my own suffering at the time.

Recently, I was reminded of that post I never did get around to writing, while listening to a sermon from Philippians 4.

When I think of verses taken out of context and stretched to teach things that seem not to be implied in the text, I think of Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

I wrote that original post asking for examples of Scriptures that are taken out of context because I had seen an example of this in an article about an up and coming basketball player. I don’t remember the guy’s name. But I do remember that he is apparently quite amazing, he is a Christian, and he is giving God all the credit for his amazingness. And that he publicly displays his gratitude by emblazoning the reference “Phil. 4:13” on his tennis shoes.

Now, I don’t have anything against someone publicly acknowledging God. But I do have a problem with some of the things that seem to be implied by slapping Philippians 4:13 on a competent basketball player’s shoes.

If I write Philippians 4:13 on MY tennis shoes, and confidently go out proclaiming I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, is there any chance at all that I can become an up and coming amazing basketball player?

And yet I hear in the recesses of my memory, echoes of the Donut Man singing that verse and boisterously asking kids, “HOW many things?” “ALL things!” they shout in response. “SOME things?” “ALL things!” “A few things?” “ALL things!”

Oh really, I want to ask?

This is more than just skepticism about hyperbole. It’s also about looking at the context. What kinds of “all things” might Paul be talking about here? Yes, I know, “all” shouldn’t have to be qualified, but still, Paul has just listed a variety of things he “can do”. And the fact that he “can do” each (and all) of them seems to be tied into having learned to be content in all circumstances.

Paul CAN DO being hungry. Just like he CAN DO being well fed. He CAN DO being in need. Just like he CAN DO having plenty.  He CAN DO being content whatever the circumstances.

I don’t feel comfortable going out confidently proclaiming that whatever it is I’m not sure I can do, I really CAN DO, if I just believe and quote Philippians 4:13 loud enough, frequently enough and cheerfully enough (or write it boldly enough across my sneakers).

But I do feel comfortable, as I read all of Philippians 4, believing that Christ can strengthen me to face every circumstance with contentment.  Whether it is all things or any thing, I do believe that through Him who gives me strength, I CAN DO contentment.

I do believe that I can trust God in similar ways to how Paul did. I do believe that living life with a trusting-God heart is possible (and if you have read my blog long, you will know that I do not believe a trusting heart is the same thing as a heart that asks no questions or a heart that does not doubt. ) I do believe that in the context of a heart that trusts God, the strength to live life with contentment, whatever the circumstances is a CAN DO kind of thing.

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Or What’s the Use of Crying Over Spilt Milk?

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(Has anybody else read this book? It’s a fun one which I enjoyed reading with my kids. It has nothing to do with this post, except that whenever I think about spilt milk, this is the picture that comes to mind.) I will warn you ahead of time that my thoughts in this post may be as disconnected as this book is from the title. My thoughts are not well developed or formed as much as they are forming and percolating. The writing them out is part of the process for me as I try to figure out what contentment is all about.

A Declaration:

I will not let my longing for what isn’t, what should have been, what could have been or even what could be destroy the gifts, goodness and delight of what is.

I will not accomplish that by pretending that what isn’t, what should have been, what could have been or even what could be (1) is wrong to long for or (2) doesn’t really matter to me.

I will not make contentment easier (or, in reality, make it something fake) by denying my longings or just caring less.

Those are some decisions that I think are implied in choosing contentment. But, saying them in that way–as declared choices–misses the important point that contentment is not something I can achieve by willpower. It is not something I grit my teeth and determine I am going to make happen–whether I like it or not.

In many ways, contentment is a byproduct of things like acceptance and trust. It is a sort of side effect. (Since becoming a medical transcriptionist, I find myself thinking in quasi-medical terms about everything. So, drugs have side effects, well so do acceptance and trust.)

In another way, though, contentment is an attitude which needs certain things to be able to grow and flourish. Plants need good soil, sunlight and water to flourish.

I deeply believe that, among other things, contentment needs grief in order to be able to thrive.

And so, I say that as part of choosing contentment, I will let myself cry over spilt milk. Indeed, I believe I need to be able to cry over spilt milk–to really grieve–in order to truly be fully content in my present circumstances.

Yesterday, Psalm 42 was brought to my attention, here and here.

And this morning as I continued to reflect on that Psalm, connected to circumstances in my own life, and also things I am grieving for others I care about, it dawned on me that David, in a sense, was crying over spilt milk.

David was crying over spilt milk.

  • Over what was not: “I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and stand before him?” (Regardless of how you may argue that this is not a “was not”, i.e. that David still WAS in the presence of God, the bottom line is that David, in asking, “When?” was expressing grief over what he was not at that moment tangibly experiencing.)
  • Over what should not have been, “Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”
  • Over what was no more, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be; I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks…”
  • Over what was maddeningly confusing and unclear, ” ‘O God my rock,’ I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?’ ” (I have chosen you as my rock. I trust you, but I wonder why you have responded by forsaking me. Even my choice to trust God sometimes feels like so much “spilt milk”. It’s one thing to grieve enemies taunting me asking where God is. It’s another thing all together–and I daresay even more painful–to be crying out TO God, still in in trust, and asking “Why have you forsaken me?”)

I’m not trying to stretch this Psalm to make it fit with a sermon on contentment. What I am saying is that as I walked through yesterday, facing many situations which seem to defy the possibility of contentment, I found great comfort in David’s expression of deep and anguished grief, intertwined with his hope in God, his continual trust in God, and the hope that he would yet again praise his Savior and his God.

Which comes first–the commitment to trust in God as rock? the questions and grief? the acceptance? the contentment? The affirmation of intent to hope and praise? I. Don’t. Know. I really, really don’t. It’s not that neat or formulized to me.

What I do know, though, is that the grief, the crying like David cried, is for me an essential part of making space for contentment to be a real possibility in my life.

When we equate acceptance of “what is” with bucking up, moving on and getting over it, we strip acceptance and make it more or less meaningless (what’s the big deal with accepting something that is no big deal, after all?). And if the acceptance is pretty much a “doesn’t matter anyway” kind of thing, then what we call contentment is pretty much apathy. (Thanks, Terri, for adding that word to the equation and to my thinking).

When I cry over spilt milk, I’m counting the cost of contentment, and I’m choosing that cost.

In addition, crying over spilt milk, to me, feels like affirming the value of the longings and also the value of the things that should have been or could have been or even could be, but are not yet.

If I’m mourning the loss of a friend, in very real ways I am also affirming and celebrating (albeit with a heavy heart) the wonderful delights that that friendship brought me.

If I’m truly committed to choosing contentment while living in a dry and dusty place, while my heart continues to grieve the life I knew, let’s say, in the lush rain-filled forests of Oregon, my grief over what isn’t here affirms in real ways, the beauty of what was there. I believe that it is only by facing that kind of grief head on, crying over the spilt milk of what cannot be in this place, that I am freed to begin to content with what is here, and not just in a “Sigh, I’ll just have to make the best of it” way. Crying over the spilt milk of what cannot be in this place lets me be content in ways so that I can be surprised by beauty and life and even the ability to thrive in a less than ideal place or situation.

If I’m in a difficult church situation (or even a less than perfect one, and what one isn’t?), and grieving what I deeply believe should and could be, my grief in some ways affirms the great value of what should and could be. Sure, contentment makes space for me to work within the realities that are, but the grief not only makes the contentment richer, I believe it also makes space for the longings to be and reflect the important hopes that are also real and very good.

I’m I’m mourning the loss of a dream, or even the end of a dream, which has now been shown to be not possible for one of my children, I honor the child by choosing contentment and acceptance about what is, but I also honor the reality of my longings and desires by grieving the things I had hoped for, which were right and good, even if they will never come to fruition now, in the realities of living in a broken and fallen world. Out of that grief, which flows in both directions, I believe contentment can flourish–a contentment which makes room for surprises and delights and joys which otherwise could not have been.

I do not think we can or should short circuit that process by trying to willpower the contentment to happen without walking through the grief–the crying over spilt milk. Not if we want the contentment to be real contentment (as opposed to pasted on). Not if want that contentment to be deep and beautiful and thriving.

It is not so much that the crying over spilled milk lets me get over the pain and move on with contentment as it is that I think the contentment about what is flourishes the most when it is lived in the context of honestly grieving what isn’t.

Crying over spilt milk is, I believe, one of the conditions to real, good, organic and beautiful contentment growing and freeing us up for receiving the good that is there for us in the reality that is.

Crying over spilt milk is a key part of how I find my way through to contentment with what is and the freedom to delight in the goodness and gifts that are, while continuing to hold to the longings which keep hope alive in my heart.

[Hmmmm…I’m rethinking that last sentence. I don’t think it’s exactly that the longings serve to keep hope alive. But I do think, somehow, that part of being settled into contentment includes making space for the ongoingness of longings, and that somehow those longings interplay with hope in important ways. So I’ll leave the sentence, admit it kind of falls short, and keep thinking about what it is I’m trying to get at there.]

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Contentment, Part 2

What is contentment NOT?

Well, going back to my previous post and the quote about the rains beginning in Botswana, it would obviously not be contentment if I lived in a place like Botswana and spent significant parts of every day, most months of the year, ranting and raving about the dryness.

To live in dryness, and cope with it only by cursing the dryness, is not contentment.

But neither is it contentment to live in a dry place and refuse to let my heart dream of water and soar at the thought of it. Killing my longings so I don’t long so desperately for them–so I don’t feel my thirst–is not contentment. It’s denial.

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I’ve been thinking about this topic lately. Last night I was reading the latest in my favorite series of books, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series. The book is called The Miracle at Speedy Motors. What is it that I like so much about this series? Well, it is set in Botswana, and having lived in southeastern Africa, I enjoy the memories that are stirred up. Botswana is different in many ways from where I lived in Africa, but not so different in other ways.

But I also like the books, because they are just so all around pleasant. One reviewer said this about them:

Utterly enchanting…It is impossible to come away from an Alexander McCall Smith ‘mystery novel’ without a smile on the lips and warm fuzzies in the heart.”

Happy sigh. What more could I ask for in a story? Happy memories. A smile on my lips. Warm fuzzies in my heart.

Well, none of that has to do with contentment, exactly, except that I’m perfectly content with a good book in my possession. (A good book I hadn’t even been expecting. I went to the library totally unaware there had been a new release in the series and was delightfully caught off guard to discover this one while browsing a display.) And really being content with a good book in hand is nothing to write home about–I’m content because everything is going my way 🙂 Somehow that misses the point, doesn’t it?

But, I have been thinking a lot about contentment lately, and I have a couple of posts, I think, rumbling around inside of my head. While the words for them are still forming, though, I wanted to share this paragraph from my new book, which felt very similar to some of what I’m thinking about with contentment. If the connection doesn’t make sense yet, don’t strain your brain–it’s me, not you! My feelings often make me connect things that might not be very connected. Hopefully, though, I’ll find the words to explain the connection in the days to come. Until then, I leave you with this selection that I found beautifully fitting with my recent thoughts:

Mma Ramotswe turned the van and they had just started back when the first drops of rain began to fall. First there was that smell, that smell of rain, so unlike anything else, but immediately recognisable and enough to make the heart of a dry person soar; for that, thought Mma Ramotswe, is what we Batswana are: dry people, people who can live with dust and dryness but whose hearts dream of rain and water.” (p. 76)

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