Hanging ornaments on my Christmas tree sure brings back memories. Diligently, I am trying to thank God for the memories rather than ache with longing to relive them. I have so many memories of standing on the beach, scanning the horizon for two blonde heads on bodyboards. Though the waves oft obscured my view, once I accounted for Dylan and Danny, I would return to my beach chair,
take up my pen and trusty notebook.
One August afternoon in 2006 I was thinking about contentment - and why it is so fragile. The day is as clear in my memory as though it was yesterday, as I asked, ‘who is the most contented person I know?’ Wasn’t long before I realized it was my dear mother! She was the role model of contentment, even at 90 years old, partially paralyzed and living in a nursing home.
Mary (my mother) grew up in a very poor family in the Midwest, the second oldest of 11 children, often living in a tent and her mother terribly worried because ‘Daddy’ had gambled away his paycheck again. Mom was married to my dad for almost 62 years, but never had a wedding ring, never went on a honeymoon; instead, she was married at the courthouse at noon, and went to work packing asparagus in a cannery at 3:00. She wasn’t educated by the world’s standards, not even having completed high school—but she was so wise. And even though she had many reasons not to be—my dad, for one—she was the picture of contentment. He was a malcontent and could be difficult to get along with—cranky, controlling and critical. Yet, she hummed a tune, sang a line of ‘Blessed Assurance’ and kept on cooking, sewing, cleaning or whatever. Mom did not let circumstances define her contentment.
Oh, I wish you could have known her and I wish I could give you this very precious gift! Paul knew something of it, as he wrote to the Philippians from prison, ‘For 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.’ And then he followed it up with his secret:
I can do all things through him who gives me strength.' Philippians 4.11-13
I have taught on this subject before and I will again because
it is a constant challenge.
Note: Paul said contentment is learned. So how was it that my mother learned contentment? She knew who she was, and whose she was, and both determined her life course. She lived by two priorities and they defined her life direction and daily choices--they were the parameters for her personal contentment:
loving God and loving others.
So simple . . . and the two flow directly from Jesus who said:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this:
‘love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” Mark 12.30-31 When we are able to live by these—we are God-focused and other-focused, and are naturally less self-absorbed and have a much greater chance at contentment.
We can live freely because these two priorities act as guideposts for daily living. They shape decisions and responses, our character and our humility … how we live our lives, raise our children and conduct business.
And here's the thing: if we truly love God,
we will entrust our day and all of the cares of each day,
Please give it some thought—ask God to open your eyes to ingratitude and
give you satisfaction in himself . . . to give you greater faith this Christmas.
Ask him to grant you the courage to open the Gift of Contentment.
Here's a great song for you: All is Well