The Secret of Contentment

Did you know sharks need forward motion to survive? Without forcing water through their gills, they drown.

Anybody else feel like a drowning shark right now?

Currently, I have two nine-foot artificial Christmas trees lying in the living room under eight-foot ceilings, and the only reaction I can muster is, “Nice Clark.”  Also, I’m a writer not writing, a reader not reading, and a bible student not studying. I can’t figure out how to fit my square-peg self into a round Christmas hole, and lately I pray like a kid off her Ritalin.

I’m struggling with things I once did with ease, and it stresses me out. If I’m not those things who am I? Author Sarah Bessey talks about “the right now and not yet” Kingdom of God. Wherever that is, I’m there. I’m stuck in the becoming and I need forward motion.

Unfortunately, my Christian friends pray for me then say things like this:

“I feel like the Lord is saying you just need to pause.”

“Maybe just be a still for a little while and wait.”

Worse, that supports what I’ve heard in my own speedy-sleepy, look-there’s-a-squirrel, prayer time.

“Rest. Baby. Rest”

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. Isaiah 30:15

Are you kidding me? I’m like a dog chasing cars. I don’t know why I’m doing that but I’m loathe to stop because what beating will my identity and self-worth take if I’m not getting my book published, expanding my platform, rocking my job, and making my house look like the cover of Southern Living? I’m supposed to just sit still and like it?

fresh holiday decor

I know, gorgeous huh? Photo coco+kelley

Maybe that’s what the LORD meant by the “you would have none of it” part.

The Apostle Paul said, “For I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” Phil 4:11-13 NET

Paul didn’t say the secret of contentment fell on him like rice at a wedding, he LEARNED it, and probably while standing in a Roman prison in ankle deep sewage. What sort of encounter did Paul have with Jesus, either there or on his way to Damascus, to produce that kind of confidence?

Whatever it was, I seem to be taking the long way. Except for two, too tall Christmas trees, there’s not one thing wrong. No prison. No sewage. So what’s with the discontent? Why am I chasing cars?

Because I doubt who I am in Christ and I don’t know how to rest in his strength.

Ouch.

See chasing happiness is easier because it gives us something to do, like the dog. Resting at the feet of Jesus, requires attentive stillness, humility and surrender. It’s where I get ok with bringing nothing to the table.

Rest is the prerequisite for contentment.

Maybe the difference between happiness and contentment is like the Paris hotel in Vegas vs. Trocadero Square. At first, the mini Eiffel Tower jutting out of the Nevada desert with all the sparkly people partying beneath it, makes your heart race because it doesn’t yet look like the hopped up, expensive hoax it is.

But the first time you see the real thing, with the sparkly lights dancing all around it at midnight, it doesn’t make your heart race. It makes it stand still.

Eiffel Tower

 

An Invitation to Stillness.

It’s eight pm in Texas and it’s been dark for hours. The man of the house is fed and the animals are too, so I’m deciding whether to go to bed or talk to you.

That my bed is winning so early in the evening feels shameful and weak.

But why? Who cares? The leaves on a million oak trees are inches from surrender. Why not me? And you?

Autumn leafs

Autumn leafs (Photo credit: Morten Rand-Hendriksen)

The seasons are like good punctuation. Fall interrupts the steamy, hot breath of summer’s long sentences, with a cool sigh and a pause.

So go to bed at seven. Read to the kids by candlelight, gain a few pounds, wear sweaters to hide it, who cares? I came so that you might have and enjoy your life, Jesus said. So enjoy it, all of it. Why skim across it like a well-skipped stone? Sink in and drift.

We’re such drivers, overschedulers and striving little strivers, teaching our kids the metier of anxiety and fear – the very last thing we want them to know. So let us sit with the singular rhythm of fall, listening to the sound of the rain and our own heartbeats, eager to hear the still, small voice in our still, small space.

Of course, there’s laundry and lunches and the catbox is full, but nobody ever died of those things. We die of thirsty, broken hearts every day. But this God, the one who spells his name with a capital L, has a present for you. He wrapped it in browns and reds and gold and set it ablaze against a shiny, black night.

So here’s your permission, as if you need it from me. Go. Right now, open that gift. Gather your loves, whoever they are. Light a candle, turn out the lights, hug, sit and listen. Don’t rush off. Don’t run, invite Him in and wait.

Let us suck the marrow out of life in every other season.

But not this one.

On Scorpions and Worry

I know better than to worry, but that rarely keeps me from doing it. I keep catching myself ten minutes into a preemptive, imaginary argument wherein I defend myself against something that shows no sign of actually happening.

Before I began my Bible-reading experiment, two years ago, I spent most days in that jungle. Now, at least I notice it and start beating back the vines before they take over my fields.

Years ago, I was in Indonesia, sitting on the porch of a beach hut, next to a stack of firewood. My friend Allison walked onto the porch to put her shoes on. Resting her hand on the woodpile for balance, she erupted into a howling explosion of screams. Another friend came running out and gleaned enough information to shine a flashlight on the woodpile.

Allison had laid her hand on a scorpion and in return it laid hands on her.

I narrowly missed the same experience this week at my home in Texas. Standing at the fridge, filling a glass of water, I stood with my big toe resting on a scorpion. Oddly, it did not sting me, but instead provided a clear object lesson, directly from Jesus, on the topic of worry.

All week I have worried that the book I’ve spent two years writing is not nearly __________ enough – you can fill in any number of modifiers. I’ve also nursed the concern that the still, small voice upon which I’ve relied to write it, has softened so much as to become inaudible.

Here’s how I know God thinks I shouldn’t sweat that:

On Sunday, Isaiah 54 fell out of my bible, literally the page came loose and fluttered to the floor. It’s not a famous passage like John 3:16, but it’s famous to me, so it gave me pause. Verse 1 says, “Sing o barren one, you who did not bear: break forth into singing and cry aloud you who did not travail with child! For the (spiritual) children of the desolate one will be more than the children of the married wife, says the Lord”

Isaiah was talking about the redemption of Zion, but it speaks to me because I have tried to have children and cannot. I turn 40 in a week and it seems that horse has left the barn. So either I have just broken the spine on my bible there or the God I think I can’t hear anymore is telling me to quit worrying about legacy and sing.

Secondly, Joseph Prince a Singaporean pastor I like, is the third person I’ve heard this week discussing rest and freedom from worry; and coming to know God like I have, has made me skeptical of coincidence.

Considering all that while filling my water glass, I looked down and saw that little lobster-shaped insect under my toe. I screamed and jumped backward and he skittered under the fridge.

Then this scripture whistled through my mind like a bottle rocket: Behold! I (Jesus) give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and (physical and mental strength and ability) over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Luke 10:19

Whoa, do I have literal power and authority to trample on scorpions? Evidently, but that’s not the point and I don’t intend to test it. The point is, after several tries, the light came on. Jesus said, “fret not” “fear not” “don’t worry” “stop worrying” “trust me, don’t be afraid” because he knew that faith and fear are mutually exclusive and for humans, fear is the default position. Before I read the Bible, I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know that the Bible is an arsenal, ready to help me do battle with fear and anxiety, but I have to enter it every day and gather what I need for dealing with a scary, messed-up world.

So if Jesus gave me power over the enemy and nothing will in any way harm me, why am I worrying about anything; much less the outcome of a book I wrote about the power of God. Now, each time I catch myself worrying, I recall standing un-stung on a scorpion and I say, “so what am I worried about?”

Incidentally, the scorpion was a different story. Despite my appeals for clemency on account of his good behavior, he was dispatched by my husband Sam, a man with a far less spiritual view of poisonous insects in the kitchen.