Amy and I got into a discussion about contentment recently. We were in the car with the kids, which is either the worst possible time and place or the absolute best to have this talk depending on who you’re talking to.
“When was a time in our life together that you felt 100% content?” I asked Amy. She didn’t have to think long. She talked about the day the twins were born. She’d been in the hospital for days before this and had to stay days after for health reasons. Our lives had just changed full throttle. Two rolling hospital cribs were left in the room where we were sleeping that night, and we laid awake in the dark, whispering.
Of course, shortly after this bliss, life hit warp speed. And here we are 8 years later. Why did she reach for something 8 years ago? Have we had any moments of contentment in 8 years since? Of course we have. She could have talked about when we named Story and the reason for it. She could have smiled and said, “Remember the day you graduated from seminary and raised your diploma as if I was the one who really earned it?” She could have talked about when we moved into our current home which is a century old and full of charm. Or, when we joined our believing family at the church we attend. The school programs we have attended where the kids brought us to tears and joy. The day she started teaching music to mommies with babies. Many days after God confirmed His presence in the midst of mundane, task-oriented work and stress. Contentment keeps showing up here and there. We have shared it together.
In the last month as the new year has begun, I have been very irritating. That is what we become when we are not finding contentment. The contentment was there as always, I just wasn’t squaring with it. Up and down on the inner roller coaster. This day high, next day low and nervous. Or all in the same day. Pacing back and forth. Distracted. Self-defeating thoughts. Snapping at children (mine, of course). Obsessive behavior. Contentment level: zero. But I didn’t know this.
Then, I was hitting around this with a friend over Skype this past week. This Skype call was actually the highlight of my week. What I mean is, I didn’t feel up to this point (Friday, midday) like anything special had happened. I preferred listening to him talk about what a big week he had lived through. Especially one day where God had thrown him into the ministry bunker. Hands dirty with service. Fully engaged in the Lord’s work.
I didn’t want to be a downer but I brought up the fact that I had just the opposite kind of week. And threw some expressed worried thoughts onto the pile since he was so accommodating. But I didn’t want it to be all bad so I hustled to think of the silver lining.
“I stood up for my son this week,” I told him. Then, I explained that Zach had come home from school this past week, quiet and holding his head down. When I asked him what was wrong, he said some boys in his class had been picking on him. Taunting him at his work table. Even pushing him, hitting him. And all of this was happening in class where the teacher couldn’t see. Zach was afraid to tell the teacher about it because he thought it would make things worse. I pulled his face up where he could see my eyes and promised him I would talk to his teacher in the morning. Sure enough, next morning came and Zach reminded me (not that I had forgotten). He went to his desk to unpack and watched me the whole time as I talked to his teacher and worked out a solution together to help my son.
I told my friend about this bright spot in my week and felt a surging pride. I had made the effort to look for the positive and find contentment though I honestly would rather having been busy at work last week. Work had been almost nonexistent. My friend could see me since we were on Skype together and he smiled and said, “Well, was that your baseline this week?”
What he meant was Is this what you are going to measure your contentment with? I was confused. I thought I’d done well in being positive and throwing some selfless effort in.
“Well, why not? Isn’t this a good thing?” I replied.
He reminded me of something I put on my email signature below my name and phone number. Quite honestly, I send a lot of emails and don’t think about it being there. It’s a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 2:2. It says, “I have forgotten everything except for Jesus”. He said, “Isn’t that your catch phrase?” and laughed. Then he commented on the fact that this truism hadn’t carried me through an entire day yet. It was like a truth missile brilliantly packaged in the form of love and encouragement. He had made his point.
Had I even considered making Jesus my baseline this past week? Is he truly my baseline in life? If he was, wouldn’t I “find” contentment everywhere? Oh, Lord it hit my hard. Through this journey of preparation to leave this country and enter another one for the sake of carrying the love of Christ, I was not making him my basis for contentment. Without doing this, I wouldn’t go very far after exiting the plane in Italy.
For the sake of my family, for the sake of my mental and emotional health, I need him to be my contentment. As the apostle Paul learned to be content in every type of circumstance (Philippians 4:12,13), I must learn it to by looking first to Jesus. When work is slow why can’t I look to Jesus and find contentment? When the missions account is stalllng at 20-30-40% why can’t I make Jesus my basis for contentment? To be the “author” and “finisher” of not just my faith but my contentment as well?
It’s only appropriate to end with a prayer: Dear Lord, teach me to look to you as I forced my son Zach to look to me that day on the way home from school. His downcast face turned upward, eyes locked on mine faith him confidence and hope. Take my chin, Jesus, and force me to look eyes with you. To have my ultimate joy in you. Help us all. Amen.