From the back seat of my car come the melodious sound of my children’s voices.
“AHHHHH!! MOM!!! The battery on my tablet just DIED!”
“JACK! STOP IT!”
“I’m not doing anything!”
“WHY WON’T YOU STOP!?!?”
“MAMA!! My battery!!”
“MOM! Jack is annoying me, ON PURPOSE!”
“No, NO, No, I’m not. Brenn is just angry because I won’t give him my tablet.”
“Jack. You KNOW I love that game. I just want to watch!”
[with tears] “MAMAMAMA!!! MY BATTERY IS TOTALLY, TOTALLY DEAD!!!!!!”
“MOM!! Brenn is grabbing my tablet”
“AH! MOM! Jack is punching me in the arm!”
“MAMA! JACK AND BRENN ARE FIGHTING!!! (Can I have Jack’s Tablet???)”
My husband has the uncanny ability to tune out this cacophony while I, on the other hand, was not born under then “able-to-ignore-all-external-stimuli” star. Sadly, my ability to calmly tolerate such noise only decreases as their volume and intensity increases.
It’s a bad combination.
During this particular drive we were travelling along one of Alaska’s most scenic highways, on our way to a group hike one afternoon. Mountains stretched up on our left. The Turnagain Arm inlet was to our right, with even more mountains on it’s opposite shore. Glaciers sloped gracefully down to the water from mountain heights and bright patches of wildflowers covered the mountains. Bald eagles soared above us and at least one fin from a beluga whale was spotted in the water. Waterfalls ran down the cliffs, mist and clouds swirled around the top of the mountains and patches of snow could be seen on some of the tallest peaks. You get the picture.
My children, however, saw none of this. Nothing mattered but the battle that was raging in the back seat. I gave several injunctions of the “stop fussing/be kind/what would Jesus do/stop being selfish/why are you choosing to sin/keep your hands to yourself/you’ll have to wait till we get home to charge your iPad” variety. Some were stern, some were gentle, but none seemed to have any affect. Any ceasefire was short-lived and grumpiness always seemed to gain the upper hand.
It wasn’t too long before I went against all my own advice about kindness and Christlikeness and finally screeched,
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! WHY CAN’T YOU GET ALONG?!? Don’t you see the mountains? Can’t you see the water?! Have you noticed the eagles? EAGLES??? WHY CAN’T YOU JUST STOP FUSSING AND ENJOY THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S CREATION!?!?!”
It was quiet after that.
I’d like to say that we all repented and asked for each other for forgiveness and enjoyed the rest of the drive while marveling at the glory of the views around us. But the truth is that I fumed and the kids cowered. The words “no electronics for the rest of the summer” might have left my mouth. Tears gathered in the corners of eyes and basically the rest of the trip was a study in parent/child conflict.
And the mountains sped by, wholly unnoticed.
However, by the next day calm conversations had been had, relationships had been restored and tablets, though not banished for the rest of the summer, had been relegated to a spot in the closet in my bedroom for a while. This accomplished, I sat and thought about the situation.
My children had been surrounded by the blessings of nature – unsurpassed beauty, grandeur, color, and texture. But they, with narrow-minded focus, could only see the small (electronic) frustrations in their laps. They allowed themselves to get angry, to act selfishly, to hurt the people they were supposed to love. They complained. They disobeyed. As opposed to what the voice of their parent advised, they believed that getting their own way would bring them happiness.
And all the while, the mountains sped by….
While you might cringe at the actions of my children (or maybe you are one of those blessed members of the human race who can, like Paul, ignore relentlessly loud and annoying sensory input, at will) the reality is that you and I often act the very same way.
Let me explain.
My life is one of abundant blessings, undeserved and lovely, given by my Father. It’s as if blessings speed by me every day! I have a husband who, though not perfect, is about as wonderful as a human partner can be. A husband who loves God, loves me, loves our children and who loves the people he is called to serve. I have children who are healthy and who (generally) love each other. I’m watching their personalities emerge and I can’t wait to see what God has planned for their lives. We are blessed beyond measure with godly extended family and friends. And though we are separated geographically (which does get to me at times) we have the ability to connect with them in so many ways through technology. I have the funds needed to buy anything I truly need for my family. We have a church that God led us too which encourages our hearts each Sunday. We are making friends.
From a spiritual perspective, I have the blessing of a spiritual relationship with Jesus. I have the God of the universe as a loving Father who not only loves me, he likes me too. Likes ME. I have the holy spirit breathing the words of wisdom and guidance into my soul each moment. I have access to the very words of God if I would only choose to hide those words in my heart at every opportunity.
And finally, I currently live in a house that is literally sitting in a breath-taking Alaskan valley. Standing on my porch this morning, coffee in hand, I marveled at the beauty of creation. This opportunity is mine each day, practically each hour of every day. It’s more than I’d thought to ask for or could have before arriving in this, the 49th state of America.
By any estimation, my life is full to overflowing with goodness.
But what do I do with all these blessings?!
Often, I seem to ignore them and wholly focus my attention on the small and (frankly) petty aspects of my life.
Such as: my family values a clean house less than I do. My husband doesn’t agree with me on some things (ok, many things. It’s true that opposites attract : ) My kids have their volume level permanently set to loud. Parts of my body ache more than when I was twenty. Plane tickets are more expensive than I’d like. Some days don’t follow the schedule I’d planned. My friends and family live far away. Stuff breaks and must be replaced. And there is the fact that I am parenting three little sinner-saints (well, two sinner-saints and one who’s still too young to make the decision) who still struggle (sometimes hourly) with the temptation to do those very sins that irritate me the most. It’s a pain to find a new job every three years. And I do miss the beach terribly (first-world problem though it may be).
(As one character says to another in a not-so-classic movie, “Waa, waa, waa. Somebody call the Waaaaambulance!”)
Anyway, all these musings brought me to the topic of contentment. Paul wrote to the Philippians,
“… 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.”
The apostle Paul stated that he could be content when the circumstances of life were both good and bad because he’d learned how to do this. It’s understandable that we’d need to learn how to be content during difficult times, but during the good times? Won’t I just naturally gravitate towards that state of settled calm, confident trust and joyful gratitude? Sadly, Paul’s words don’t seem to back up this idea..
Anyone watching a child at their birthday party can relate to this truth. How many times have you, as a parent or caregiver, spent time, money and effort to create the perfect party? It’s the dream party for which your child begged and pleaded. And yet, when the day rolls around and the party is in full swing, your little darling ends up pouting and disgruntled by some small annoyance. They are not content! Even when nearly everything is exactly as they wanted it!!
So, what does contentment during good times look like? How do I learn it?
Psalm 116:12-14, states, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
By lifting my cup, I admit that it is empty and needs filling. This is an easier thing to acknowledge when my life seems empty already – when difficulty and stress and frustration drain my soul each day and I go to bed exhausted and desperate for God’s strength. But during the times of life when I’m not emotionally and physically depleted…well, I just might start to forget God’s goodness and provision. I’ll only lift my cup to refill it with coffee rather than bringing it before my Father. And slowly, I’ll let the small irritations of life crowd my mind. Day by day I start ignoring the good and let myself focus on my frustrations. I’ll get as grumpy as an unhappy child at their own birthday party.
But if I can carry the idea of dependence on God through all the times in my life, then I’ll be better attuned to his daily provision and undeserved grace. I’ll notice the multihued display of God’s glorious gifts to me—the undeserving child whom he loves. It reminds me of the need to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” even if we know where the bread is coming from already (say, Krogers Grocery store?) Because it is a gift. It’s all a gift, given to us by a powerful, creative, amazing God. He is the filler of our daily cup and we should daily enter his gates with thanksgiving and trust.
During a sermon on living in the reality of future grace, John Piper explained Psalm 116:12 like this, “You’ve filled my cup a thousand times! What can I do? What is an appropriate response? Well, I will lift up my cup and call on the name of the Lord. . I want to show the world that you won’t leave me! I will ask for you to fill my cup again today and I will rejoice in what you give to me!”
This is living a life of contentment! This is seeing the world in light of God’s loving providence. I will be less tempted to miss the glorious mountains of God’s goodness if I remember to connect with the God who made them each and every day. I must acknowledge the true emptiness of my cup, recognize that God is the source of my strength (Phil 4:13,) raise my cup of need and call on the name of the Lord.
(Interestingly, it’s after that is completed that the psalmist states that he will go and fulfill his vows to the Lord in the presence of other people. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. Obedience and service are so much more rewarding if we’ve gone to God first and asked for his help. But anyway, that’s another blog post : )
So friends, today might represent a good moment in your life or a tough one. You might be struggling down the road to the laundromat or you might be cruising down a scenic highway with very few real cares in the world. Either way, I hope that you will seek (and find – Matthew 7:7) God and your contentment in him, the God who controls all things and loves you with an everlasting love.