“You don’t know what I’ve been through!” It’s the plaintive cry of many of us when we’re told to be content. As if there were a special category of troubles that exempts a sufferer from contentment.
But the apostle Paul was in the chains of a Roman prison when he wrote this: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.” The secret? “I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength.”
So my level of troubles or difficulties has nothing to do with whether or not I’m able to be content in them.
Jeremiah Burroughs describes contentment as an inner, quiet, gracious frame of spirit. By frame he means both an intellectual assent and a spiritual conviction that can say, “This is the hand of God, and is what is suitable to my condition or best for me.”
But he goes on to explain how our minds may arrive at that kind of acceptance but our emotions don’t necessarily follow: “But I cannot for my life rule my thoughts and will and my affections. Methinks I feel my heart heavy and sad and more than it should be;…There is such unruliness in our thoughts and affections that our judgments are not always able to rule our thoughts and affections.”
Methinks a lot of us have been right where Mr. Burroughs was when he wrote that. Ever had “unruly” thoughts and emotions? I have!
There was a point about three years into our renovation when I came to a stunning realization. Somehow in the back of my mind I’d thought the project would be complete at the three year mark. I remember shuddering in dismay when I heard of a family whose home was still not ready to move into after seven years.
You need to understand, ours was not a simple add-a-room project or update-the-kitchen redecorating. Oh no! We had tackled a whole house rebuilding. Ultimately,
- the house was to be lifted and a basement was to be dug and built
- not one original interior wall would remain in place.
- all electrical, plumbing and heating systems were to be moved and replaced.
- all windows and doors were to be replaced, many in entirely new locations.
- both original additions were to be torn down and rebuilt.
And at the three year mark, only the first of these was complete. There was good progress on all the others from that list but our upstairs bathroom was the closest we had to anything finished.
But, I digress. I was telling you about my stunning realization in 2006:
What if this house is the house God intends for me, just as it is? What if nothing ever changes for me?
I must confess my initial reaction was, “Noooooooo!!”
I do love me some pretty, and it was almost physically painful to contemplate living with that ugly upheaval for the rest of my days. And of course, some of my chagrin resulted from the fear of what people would think of us, living under such conditions. Yes, I’m a vain and foolish woman.
It took time, a few weeks I’d say, before I was willing to say “yes” to God and let my own hopes and plans die.
Let me just say, this was entirely an inner battle. I didn’t stop trying to keep our home orderly and as attractive as I could, despite the surroundings.
One thing I learned to do super speedily and efficiently was laundry for eight; our washer and dryer were temporarily in one corner of the living room!
But to accept that God’s plan might mean my home, which is always an extension of any woman, could remain in that state indefinitely was a bitter pill to swallow, indeed!
By God’s grace, I said “yes” to the possibility of nothing ever changing. And then a little thought occurred to me. What if this is the house I deserve?
Isn’t it amazing how sneaky self-pity can be? We obey God in something and our sinful nature tries to make a martyr out of us for doing so. Almost immediately I recognized that poisonous thought as wrong-headed. If any of us got what we deserved we’d be dead long since. My willingness to accept this as “the hand of God” had to be whole-hearted, permeating every part of me, not just my mind.
As Jeremiah Burroughs says, “That is what makes me say that contentment is an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit — the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affections and all are satisfied and quiet.” He’s saying if that’s what contentment is, “it is not easily obtained.”
In each of our lives there’s something God wants us to be content with. It may not be a house. Perhaps it’s health, or relationships (or lack of them). Maybe loss or grief or disappointment. Location, position, possessions — anything that rankles us is an opportunity to trust God that he has placed in our lives only what is for his glory and our good.
That’s contentment. And that is peace.