A small flame

A small flame

the contentment contradiction

About this time each year, I get a prolonged case of the warm fuzzies. How can I avoid it? My favorite season is in full swing, and my favorite holidays are just around the corner. I feel like a content cat, purring by the fireplace. And it's easy, I think, to begin to see contentment as that warm, fuzzy, purr-by-the-fire sort of feeling.

In church we read these words aloud corporately . . .

"A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. " - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

. . . and the tears were quick to come.

It's easy to purr when life hands you warm fuzzies. . . and it may even sound very spiritual to keep being content in little 'weaknesses'. But to say, with Paul, 'I am content in insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities'. . . . Oh how hard that is!

This quote from the 1600s describes what contentment ought to be for believers well, I think :

'Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and faithful disposal in every condition' - from ' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment ' by Jeremiah Burroughs

What a contrast!

weakness . . . freely submit

insults . . . sweet

hardships . . . quiet

persecutions . . . gracious

calamities . . . delight

Christianity is such a contradiction, isn't it?

I have learned - am learning - that contentment is truly not about us! It is, like the rest of the journey, all about God.

Paul learned to maintain contentment, independent of his circumstances, by applying his knowledge of God to his circumstances:

'I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ' - Philippians 4:11-13

The writer of Hebrews agrees:
' Be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you
" So we can confidently say,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?" '

Knowing who God is and being confident
in His loving, wise, complete control over everything that happens

. . . Seeing all we have as a gift from his Father-hand
. . . Offering gratitude back to Him, even when there are no 'warm fuzzies'
. . . . that's really the key to this contentment thing, isn't it?

This has long been my favorite prayer for contentment:

How can I thus be bold to pray
that though shalt grant me that or spare me this?
How should my ignorance not go astray?
How should my foolish lips not speak amiss?
To ask for woe when fain they would ask for bliss.
How shall I dare to prompt thee, the all wise, to show me kindness?
Thou art ever kind.
What is my feeble craving in thine eyes
which view the centuries vast – before, behind –
and sweep unnumbered worlds like viewless wind?
Thy goodness ordereth what thing shall be.
Thy wisdom knoweth even my in-most want.
Why should I raise a needless prayer to thee
or importune omnipotence to grant my wishes
dim, shortsighted, ignorant?
And yet I come, for thou hast bidden and said,
But not to weary thee or specify a wish,
But rather with this prayer instead
O Lord,
Thou knowest, give it or deny.
Fill up the cup of joy or pass me by.
Just as thou wilt is just as I would will.
Give me but this – the heart to be content
And, if my wish is thwarted,
To lie still
Waiting ‘til puzzle and pain are spent
And the sweet thing made plain
That thou has meant.
- Susan Cooledge


No comments: