Some days there are no words to adequately express my thanks to God. Some days my heart is filled with so much praise that I cannot even think of what to say to Him, of how I can tell Him how much I love Him, and of how I can express my gratitude for the good He has brought to me. Today is one of those days.
I woke up this morning feeling tired, very tired, but filled with contentment. Merriam-Webster defines the term, contentment, as "the state of being happy and satisfied." The root word "content" means to be "pleased and satisfied" or the point of "not needing more." As I laid in bed, I started to think about contentment, about what it means to be content, and about how one becomes content. I started to think about my life, reflect on it a bit, and think about the moment when I "found" contentment or first experienced what it means or feels like to be content.
If I were honest with myself, I would say that I have been content for a number of years now. Of course, to be truly honest, I would have to add a caveat to that saying that I have been mostly content because I doubt that I could say that I maintained a consistent state of contentment. Yet, I believe I have been content, mostly content, for a long while. I am not sure when it happened, when I changed from a constant state of being unhappy and dissatisfied to the way I feel today, but I can say that it only has been within the last 5 or 6 years.
In looking back on my life, really reflecting on my life from childhood through to adulthood, I would have to say that the majority of my adult life was unhappy. I can say that now because I believe it is true, mostly true, and that now I can share that without the worry of anyone criticizing me for saying it (if that makes sense). Moreover, I think I could go as far as to say that my life from my early 20s through to my late 40s was marked by an overarching sadness. It is no surprise that this period of time, some 20 years, also coincided with the years I was married. In reflection, and with ruthless honestly, I would have to say that my unhappiness began when I got married and ended sometime after I found myself single.
In research, we would call that a correlation or a direct relationship between two unrelated events. However, as every good social science researcher knows, you cannot link cause and effect quite that easily. We like to show progress from event A to event B, and while sometimes two events do link together and create a causal chain (this is why I teach Introduction to Argument), those two events are not always synonymous with each other. I can say that I see a pattern for certain, and I can identify common themes. I can interpret the data and put forth a plausible scenario but I cannot say 100% that this was the cause or reason for my unhappiness. There were other factors at play, other issues, and the combination of events, of circumstances, and of influences worked together to create a ripe environment for sadness and for despair.
Jasmin O. Brown writes in her book, "Bruised but not Broken," that the Bible reminds us that our lives will be filled with disappointments and that we will suffer discouragement, dejection, and at times a sense of despair. She quotes Hebrews 12:11,
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
to point out that every trial and every test has a purpose, has a result. Therefore, suffering in this way, should lead us to peace and not to despair. Our hope rests in the security and blessings of God, in His provision and care. When we choose to turn away from God, to turn away from His perspective, His way of thinking, then we begin to despair, to lose all sense of hope.
Romans 8:37 - No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.Some Christians today do not like to talk about suffering as being divinely appointed by God. They do not like to venture into that uncomfortable place that says there will be suffering in this life. Yet, Scripture is full of references reminding us that suffering is something we will all experience. James 1:2-4 tells us that suffering produces a good result:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
So while circumstances (within and without our control) can produce suffering, sin also causes suffering. I believe that for many Christians, the whole topic of sin, is taboo. Much of our suffering comes as a result of our own willful stubbornness to yield to the admonition of Scripture. Sin and sinful choices lead to unpleasant consequences. Those consequences often cause us to suffer pain, anguish, guilt, etc. So when it comes to discussing suffering, it is much easier, less painful, to focus on the circumstantial suffering (the job loss, the death of a loved one, disease, etc.) than it is to confess sinful lifestyle choices. I digress...
We despair when we feel that our life is hopeless, when it is bleak, when it is black. We find ourselves in deep despair when we no longer sense that there is a rescue at hand. In an emergency situation, we wait for the first responders to arrive, to rescue us. We have hope that they will arrive, that they will resolve whatever issue is at hand. If they were late to arrive, late to rescue us, we would soon begin to fear that there was no way out. We would find ourselves in a hopeless situation.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 AMP says this,
Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day. For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!], Since we consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting.Paul, in writing to the Church at Corinth, encourages us to not lose hope. He admonishes us to look to the eternal and not the temporal, to keep a Kingdom perspective rather than a human perspective.
I know how difficult it is to keep focused on the Lord, on His will, on His way. I know what it feels like to live with sadness, with despair. I also know what it feels like to live with joy, with peace, with contentment. I believe that the secret to contentment, if you want to call it a 'secret,' is a change of perspective. Yes, I believe that by changing your perspective from a human, inward, self-sufficiency view to an God-centered, outward, self-dependency view is the ticket. It is not just changing your mindset, but rather it is shifting of your vision from inward (self) to upward (God). Despair comes when we focus on our own efforts to resolve certain circumstances or events. When we feel hopeless or that there is no way for things to change, we begin to despair. We look to our human efforts, our human hands, and our human abilities to change our life.
God is our hope, and to experience contentment in this life, our eyes must be upon Him and His provision and not our own abilities or our own efforts.
In hindsight, I can say that I began to experience contentment the day I chose to place my faith, my entire faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. At the moment of salvation, I experienced joy in His life-saving Grace. I experienced forgiveness and healing at the foot of the cross. Yet, a contented life didn't just happen over night. No, I had to learn how to be content in every life experience. I believe this is where suffering produced its good result in me. I suffered through trials and experiences that were clearly God-ordained, and if not ordained, then permitted. God permitted certain experiences in my life to test and to try my faith. In doing so, I was hardened-off, so to speak. I was made strong, and I learned the valuable lesson of endurance. This is common to all believers as Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 AMP:
For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.In addition to these experiences, I also made choices, sinful choices that produced very unpleasant consequences. I learned through those experiences as well as through the trials and temptations of life what it means to endure. And while God rescued me from my sin choices (after I confessed and repented of them), He didn't always short circuit the consequence or bring it to a quick close. No, often because of the nature of the sin-choice, the consequence was significant and prolonged. Yet, despite the situation, God was faithful. God, in His great mercy, cared for me throughout the learning process. He covered me with His blessing of grace (strengthening me and sustaining me), and He provided a way to endure (we like to think that He will provide a way out -- a short cut -- but this is not always the case).
Contentment, therefore, comes through hard life lessons. Learning how to be content in all situations and circumstances requires patient endurance, endurance through difficult and at times very painful experiences. Contentment, in my view, only comes after the experience ends, after the lesson has been learned, after the pain has subsided. It is then and only then that we can understand what it is like to be content in all things. Paul says it best in Philippians 4:11-13,
Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want, for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].To whom is your sufficiency in? To whom is your praise given?
Today, my praise goes to the One who is more than worthy to receive all praise, all honor, and all glory. I give praise to the Sufficient One, to the Lord, who is my SUM, my SUFFICIENCY. May God be praised today and forevermore. Amen. Selah!