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.

 

Why I’m thankful for my limitations

A wave of melancholy washed over me the day of the holiday concert.   I was sad because I wouldn’t be singing with the local choral ensemble.group_5121

It’s not because the group didn’t want me.

This past fall I was honored to receive an invitation to join the choir, and began attending rehearsals.  My soul was immediately enlivened by the process of learning and making music again.

But I was simultaneously confronted with an old nemesis—my relentless battle with chronic fatigue.

The two-hour Sunday evening rehearsals were intense, with no breaks.  During each practice my body began to crash at about the half-way mark, leaving me hanging on by my fingernails for the duration.  Worse yet, I paid for it dearly for several days afterwards, struggling to function at work because of the resulting exhaustion, headaches, and dizzy spells.

Though I hated to do it, I knew I had to withdraw from the group. My health limitations had gained the upper hand once again.

Perhaps you know the feeling, even though your situation is different.  We all experience limitations of some sort—physical, mental, financial, educational, and emotional, to name a few.

It’s natural to feel frustrated or sad like I did when obstacles keep us from something we want.

But what if we could transform our view of the things that limit us (especially the things we cannot change) to a positive perspective?

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A cancer survivor’s perspective: the difference between faith and trust

My best friend from college, Kelly, is a two-time cancer survivor.  Breast cancer first struck her at the young age of 31.  Kelly was a mom of two small boys and a new missionary in Africa when she discovered a lump.  The diagnosis changed the course of her family’s lives, as they had to leave their overseas post and move back to the United States for Kelly’s treatment.

The dreaded disease returned fourteen years later.  This time, Kelly faced a much more aggressive treatment regimen, including a mastectomy and chemotherapy.  The side effects of chemo decimated her, both physically and emotionally.

In God’s mercy, she eventually recovered and has now been cancer-free for eight years.  Nevertheless, she understandably still battles anxiety when it’s time for her periodic checkups.  She knows there’s always a chance the doctor could deliver bad news. 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