The Quest for Contentment

I surveyed the empty chairs in the meeting room, estimating that a handful of people might show up. After all, the “popular” seminar topics were scheduled in the larger rooms and would draw the majority of conference participants.   Soon I began to see a steady stream of figures coming up the walkway and entering the room. They poured in until it was standing-room only.   I never dreamed that a workshop on contentment would have such broad appeal.

The lesson I learned that day is that the quest for contentment is universal, and for most of us, never-ending. But what is this elusive contentment? Bing Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of calm satisfaction,” and goes on to describe that it is results from “a circumstance, or a feature or characteristic of something that gives rise to satisfaction.” The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes it as “the feeling experienced when one’s wishes are met.”

These definitions may well capture how many of us view contentment. We’ve all had those moments (however brief) when we’ve emitted a peaceful sigh and felt that all was right with the world. It’s a beautiful feeling.   Unfortunately, if we are only contented when circumstances are perfect and all our wishes are met, we will spend the majority of life in a state of dissatisfaction.

Scripture lends a new light on contentment. My favorite passage on the topic is Philippians 4:11-13. The author, Paul, who certainly did not lead an easy life, states boldly, “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.”

What is this great secret? Paul states “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”   He knew from first-hand experience that trusting Christ was the only way to be content, regardless of circumstances.   Whether chained in a prison cell or in the fellowship of family and friends, Paul knew that Jesus would never leave him.   He trusted God to meet not only his physical needs, but to give him mental, emotional and spiritual strength. Christ faithfully gave him an eternal perspective that enabled him to find peace and purpose in the harshest of times. As a result, he confidently proclaimed, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).”

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines contentment as “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Now that’s the type of contentment we can all have hope of achieving.

 

Is singleness a tragedy?

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I finally got the courage to approve the comment.  It was written in response to a post I published some time ago about feeling left behind in the marriage department. The reader incorrectly interpreted that I was making light of my struggle, and wrote, “Please don’t refer to heartfelt sadness as a ‘pity party.’ To leave this earth without marriage and family is a tragedy for too many people.”

While she missed the overall intention of the post, which was to celebrate how God helped me focus on the blessings in my life, what continued to gnaw at me was her statement that being single is a tragedy.

If what she wrote is true, then nearly half of the adult population in the United States [1] are living  tragic lives.

To put it more bluntly, it means my life is a tragedy! Continue reading

God is Good . . . some of the time?

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I stood wearily outside the mortuary, listening to the elderly woman share about her husband’s recent passing.

“We were on our way to visit family. He just got into the car, closed his eyes and he was gone!” She went on to describe how it was such a blessing that he went so fast and painlessly, exclaiming, “God is so good!”

My father had passed away just two days before her husband, and his death was long and drawn-out. All I could say in return was, “it didn’t work out that way for my dad.”

Since that encounter, I’ve been more aware of when people use the phrase, “God is good.” And I’ve noticed that they typically say it when something positive has happened.

God answered a prayer the way they wanted it.

God healed someone.

God provided something they needed.

God made something easier.

Which begs the question: Is God only good when life is good? In other words, is God only good – some of the time? Continue reading

Dying Peacefully

Apparently David Bowie did it.  The New York Times reported on January 11, 2016 that the rock icon “died peacefully.”

In fact, I’ve noticed that the phrase “died peacefully” crop ups up frequently in eulogies and obituaries.  “John Doe died peacefully, surrounded by his family.”  So perhaps it shouldn’t have taken me so off-guard when someone leaned in and probed, “Did your dad die peacefully?” 

I stood there dumbstruck, unsure how to answer.   I had just come through a grueling nine days of bedside vigils.  I wasn’t sure what the intent of the question was – did he want to know whether my dad looked serene at the actual moment of death?  Was he grasping to find out if my father’s dying process was comfortable and “easy?”  Was he somehow trying to ease the sting of his own grief by receiving an affirmative answer?

Continue reading

The Power of Perseverance

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” the fitness instructor said when she saw me coming through the door. I can understand her comment, since after my first attempt in class I had whined about battling head-to-toe muscle aches for days afterwards. But despite feeling like I had been run over with a Mack truck after exercising, something in me said, “don’t quit after one try.”

thGVL9S49HThe morning the class rolled around again, I awoke to my radio playing the song “Stronger,” by Mandisa. The first words to reach my ears were, “The pain ain’t gonna last forever, and things can only get better; Believe me, this is gonna make you stronger.” Obviously she wasn’t singing specifically about my attempt at strengthening my muscles, but I smiled at God and considered it a wink of encouragement to pull on my stretch pants again that night.

My exercise teacher’s response made me think back a few years to my first day at a new job. I was introduced to a tiny but tough-looking woman who was retiring from the position I was filling.   Having been in the job for at least a millennium, she quickly conveyed the not-so-subtle message that no one could possibly fill her shoes – and that she fully expected me to fail miserably. Continue reading