I am a natural blonde…but I’ve never been “blonde” enough.
I have straight hair…I’ve always wanted it curly.
I am 5’4…I’ve always wished I was taller.
I sing and write…but I’ve always wanted to be a poet and composer.
I am single…and have always wanted to be married with children.
I could go on and on…
Until fairly recently, the generality of my life was to be dissatisfied with whatever I had and wherever I found myself. The grass was perpetually greener on the other side…and if I ever found myself on the other side, I was soon certain that the perceived “green-ness” was just an optical illusion.
A few days ago, I was having a discussion about singleness with a friend of mine. She is also single and about 10 years younger than I am. She shared a sentiment that I have heard from many of my younger single friends, which is essentially: “I think I am ok with singleness now, but I don’t think I would be ok having to wait X number of years for it to happen. I don’t think I could do it.” By the way, the “x” number is usually 10, which means where I am now is exactly where they dread being.
I know that feeling well. There was a time when the thought of prolonged singleness was a “shoot me now” thought. I’d sooner be dead than a 30-something single, was my attitude. I didn’t see the point. Marriage and family was all I ever wanted, all that was important to me, all that (to my mind) equated a real and valuable life. I didn’t want a career. I didn’t find satisfaction in hobbies or clubbing and the idea of casual dating for the rest of my life was sickening to me. So, “shoot me now” was the only other alternative. This attitude led to thoughts of suicide and even tentative plans near the end of my college days.
Enter Jesus Christ.
I wish I could say that my contrary ways went away when I met Him. They didn’t. I struggled for years wanting the contentment I read about here: for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Phil 4:11), yet, I didn't want to give up my hopes, my dreams, my plans, and the pursuit of same.
I wish I could say I do not struggle this way anymore. Indeed, every day I am called upon to choose between pursuing my hopes, dreams, desires, cravings, plans and pursuing the righteousness of God, but submitting and conforming my thoughts, emotions and actions to Christ.
The more I am “in” Christ, the easier this choice is. The closer I am to Him the more I see the things of this world “grow strangely dim.”
That expression isn’t just a euphemism or a lyrical turn of phrase or even an idealistic (yet unattainable) thought. It is something that is actually possible for anyone who is in Christ. And I believe we can see a sort of “how to” for contentment in Philippians 4.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
It is difficult to be on the lookout for greener pastures when you are thankful for the one you’re in.
TURN FRETS INTO PRAYER
6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I love the last part, especially…”and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.” I know my heart and mind needs constant guarding. Left on my own, I would never leave from thinking about and plotting ways to achieve or receive all I think I deserve or need. But Praise be to God who calls us to something better…something beyond US!...something eternal and actually good! I am reminded just now of how often I discovered that the thing I couldn’t live without wasn’t all it seemed to be when I was pining for it from a distance. Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves and sometimes says NO?!?!
THINK GOOD THOUGHTS
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
PUT THEOLOGY INTO PRACTICE
9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I am convinced…and have seen evidence of it in my own life…that when we do these things we can, like Paul, say that we have “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” And be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, for we “can do all things through him who strengthens” us.
None of this will happen in one big leap, however. It is one small, seemingly insignificant, choice or step at a time. But one day, we will each be able to look back and see how far we have come and how much His word…His truth has changed us.
This truth doesn’t only work with cultivating goodness. It also works with getting places we never thought we could or would or would want to.
My younger single friends worry about walking the road I have without serious stumbling or compromise…a fear I know well. I am thankful that I have what I consider an encouraging testimony to share with them. I don’t sugar-coat this life or how I have walked this whole thing out. I have stumbled and been seriously tempted to compromise…and indeed have compromised in my heart, which in God’s eyes is the same thing as actually doing the thing I was too afraid to actually do. I believe I have been brought (BROUGHT) to a place where I can submit my hopes and dreams and the yearnings I have for them to the Lord, joyfully, trusting that He will answer with what is best for me. Thus far, that best has been to deny my specific requests and supplications and in return teach me what it is to know the strength of His joy and to be satisfied in Him. I can honestly tell my younger single friends that there are times when I am overwhelmed by how happy I am in this life; that there are times when I am in tears – not mourning the loss of my life plan – but in gratitude for the kindness and peace and joy of the Lord.
10 years ago I never thought I could make it to this place. I didn’t think I could live that long being denied what I wanted most in the world. But, one small, seemingly insignificant step and choice at a time, here I am …alive…and, yes, happy.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step…as does the journey to contentment. That mountain on the horizon that seems insurmountable is also conquered the same way. Those steps are made sure by the one who made the mountain and us…and we need not fear slipping and plummeting to our death because beneath us are the everlasting arms. No weapon formed against us will prosper and no obstacle will keep us from what the Lord has prepared for us. Another comfort to me is the knowledge that trials are not just happenstance, but planned and purposed to make our faith and the exercise of it stronger. Since the Lord never begins anything or calls us to something He does not intend to see through, we can say with assurance that we can indeed "do all things through Christ who strengthens” us!
Thankfully, the Lord doesn't ask us to be OK with what may happen 10 years from now. The expectation is not that we scale Everest in a single bound. It is that we trust that His grace is sufficient for us today...for the next step...and leave tomorrow where it lies...in the unknown. It is difficult for me and I think humans in general to leave the unknown, the unknown. But, we are treading in dangerous terrain when we try to illumine that which the Lord has kept in darkness. His grace is sufficient for us TODAY...His word lights our feet on the journey one step at a time...and there is great blessing and joy to be found in surrendering our desire to know or divine the future to the One who holds it in His loving (and beyond capable) hands.
Lord Help me...help us...to faith you as you have called us to...to not plot our ascent when we haven't even reached the foothills yet...and to cultivate contentment in the big and small happenings of each day.