Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Several days ago I was on my porch.
And my soul was full. The sunlight was bright—touching and permeating even into the dense undergrowth at the porch’s edge. I took Henry out with me. He’s learning to remain there with me no matter what tempts him to run into the front yard. I’m very pleased with him.
I remember the condensation on my water glass. And my book was upside down and splayed open on top of another (just in case I wasn’t in the mood for the first), and my timer for the chicken in the oven ticked away the minutes.
I was content.
How underrated that phrase and state of mind really is. To be content. Paul tells Timothy godliness with contentment is great gain.*
Great gain. To be pleased with where you are at that moment. Contentment is not a disregard that it could be better; it is not a denial that anything needs improvement. It is not an apathy and lethargy that settles like dust on us. Real contentment defies these; it looks around and assesses the situation with prudence and gentleness and says, “This really is good for now. This really is a good place to be.”
For years this contentment eluded me. I could never settle, never bend into the now enough to realize that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Life (and your house, your husband, your children, your job) does not have to be immaculate and pristine and orderly for it to be a divine place, a sacred place, an anointed place.
The yard needed to be raked . Mowing had left rows of dead grass and debris from the weed eating needed to be blown away. The porch needed to be swept and the potting soil from the overturned plant needed to be removed. My life was and is much like the front yard. But that is not what I saw that afternoon. And it most certainly was not what I felt. I experienced something far beyond these.
In my moments of contentment I absorb the truth that God is good. Really good. And it is not an epiphany or a revelation in my theology. It is a gradual absorption. A slow saturation of a reality that I can’t explain, only experience.
Last year (and many times in the past) I had a very hard time finding contentment. My schedule was too full. There were too many responsibilities and people in the course of my day. From early in the a.m. until late at night I was with people—people I enjoyed. I love to teach and I most enjoy high school age students. But in the course of the day I would shift between teaching six classes and then on to my next job which involved a whole of people. Contentment eluded me. There was always something to be done; there was always something that hadn’t been done. And the list never shortened. Our family lived in a semi-survival state. Yes, I am very aware that I made these choices. And because I did I tried very hard not to complain, not to be disgruntled and not to be constantly frustrated.
Would I do it again? The very gut of me says no. I think the price was too high not just for me, but for my whole immediate and extended family. We learned much about ourselves and each other, but the price was a costly toll.
My schedule has been greatly modified this year. I am still teaching, but in a far different situation and capacity. I am still working, but only one job with modified hours. I see the promise of Sabbath in my life now.
God designed Sabbath to give us breathing space. He set in place a day of leaving, a day of staying, a day of remaining—a day of resting. Last year (and in many other seasons in my life) I did not have that sacred space.
That day on the porch (and many since then) I allowed myself to breath. I did not have to be at work until 3. This seemed to be a foreign concept to me. I went to the grocery and walked leisurely around assessing, pricing and purposefully gathering. I came home and did laundry, straightened the house, cooked chicken for our evening meal and for chicken salad for lunches this week. I looked at the clock. I still had a whole hour and a half before I needed to get ready for work. I fixed lunch and carried it to the porch. I dawdled. (I can’t remember the last time I engaged in this Southern pleasure.) I took my time savoring my Santa Fe salad. The avocado was rich. The chicken was spicy. The black beans punched. The salsa burned (a little). Then I began to read. Somewhere in the midst of those pages I realized how content I was.
I was utterly content.
I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. As I mentioned my life tends to be as rag-tag as my porch and front yard. Certainly not all is in order. Definitely everything is not as it should or could be. But it didn’t seem to matter.
Breathing space helps with contentment.
When life is stupid-crazy and there is no room to change or shift then there is no breathing space. I didn’t have time last year to sit on the porch and allow the afternoon sun to shine on me. I didn’t have time to do laundry or chores without the hurry button on overdrive. I was constantly doing, but rarely being.
Because of the choices and opportunities offered to us (because of the beautiful grace of God) this year my husband and I have more breathing space. Sometimes my husband still has to work hard to get me to relax—to be in the now. My mind is often on perpetual forward; it doesn’t seem to have an idle mode. But he is quite adept in his methods to get me to relax…he’s sneaky with them. I don’t recognize them until I am already uncoiling.
Our Father wants us to be content. He desires for us to be in a place where we can see what he is doing and giving. And he is quite adept in his methods to heightened our awareness. He is sneaky with them. He knows that when we live in the hurry mode we fail to see these provisions. And when we fail to see the provision then we do not experience the contentment. Breathing space is a remarkable gift given from a Father who knows us. He knows our limitations, boundaries and perimeters far better than we know our own.
Contentment stays the hungry monster called More. More woos us into believing that if we have just one more thing, if we can just fix this, change that or rearrange this then we will be happy. Contentment whispers to us that this is enough—for now. Contentment is learning how to abide in the now. To be grateful and thankful, like Ann Voskamp**, for right now. Contentment teaches us to be pleased with the tiniest of gestures, the smallest of actions and the minutest of details. Contentment teaches us that we don’t have to wait for the then. When we learn to make this awareness a part of our daily living then we are content because we see and experience the great gain.
In the past few weeks I have become more aware of this place of great gain. It has been available to me all along. Waiting for me. Patiently.
This morning I lay in my bed. The room was dark and quiet and I moved in and out of a shallow slumber. I remained there not so much because I was sleepy, but because I could. I can’t do this every day. There are days when my schedule begins quite early. But today, today I had breathing space.
I remained cocooned in my thin sheet and thin veil of sleep—prayers floated in and out of my head. One sentence, two sentences. Prayers for my husband who is being stretched, prayers for my oldest daughters who carry my grandsons still, prayers for my youngest daughters who are attempting to navigate new places in life, prayers for my brother’s family, prayers for my friends who are walking in new arenas and fighting hard battles, for my co-workers who are struggling and prayers for you.
I slid out of the bed this morning content.
I Timothy 6:6