I almost wrote this post as a “Letter to Me.” After all, hindsight is 20/20, and 31-year-old me now understands things that seemed painfully elusive in the past.
But to be honest, even if I had the power to deliver a message to my former self, I’m not sure she would’ve taken it to heart. You see, I am only just beginning to see the light of a truth that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t see before:
When you look for reasons to be discontent, you will always find them.
Thank God the opposite is also true:
When you look for reasons to be grateful, you will always find them.
Why did it take me so long to grasp this simple truth, and why do I still struggle at times to center myself in its clarity?
I’m not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with perception. And perception has everything to do with the direction our eyes take.
When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time in gymnastics lessons. One of the first things you learn as a gymnast is that your body and all of its mometum will follow the direction of your line of sight. In other words, where the eyes turn, everything else follows.
I think this is true of life as well. Though we sometimes have no say over what happens to us, we have total control over what we decide to focus on in every situation. Life’s momentum and the way we experience it, will follow the path our eyes choose to take.
If we choose poorly, or not at all, our level of contentment will be subject to circumstances–rising and falling on a whim.
This is where I have lived for much of my life. Someone did me wrong, so I wallow in self pity. Things haven’t turned out like I hoped, so disappointment sets in and stays way too long. Hopes and dreams feel broken or far away, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel fulfilled. The waiting seems to drag on and on, and I find myself feeling restless.
Of course it hasn’t always been negative–not even nearly so. There have been many times when circumstances reminded me to be grateful.
I look around at the awesome number of people that genuinely love and support me, and my heart is overwhelmed. I get involved in something that I truly enjoy–something that draws out the best in me, and I almost explode with joy. A trip to a third world country makes me realize just how much I have to be thankful for. Tragedy hits close to home, and I’m grateful to be alive.
The thing about circumstances, whether good or bad, is that they change. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote about a perplexing phenomenon: contentment that remains the same regardless of changing circumstances.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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.”-Philippians 4:11-12 ESV
The next verse is the key to Paul’s secret. It’s one that many know well but few put into practice consistently:
“I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me.”–Philippians 4:13 ESV (emphasis mine)
Lasting contentment will never be found in WHAT we look at, because what we look at is subject to change.
If we want contentment that endures, it must not be found in something but in SOMEONE. That someone is Jesus.
When I fixate on the negative in my life, I am handing the power over to the the originator of all that is evil: Satan–my enemy and the thief who only comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
Whatever and whoever I stare at long enough will eventually become my god.
When I look to the Father–the Author of every good gift (James 1:17)–I gain the strength that I need to endure. I am filled with His peace and joy, which transcend all circumstances.
I have so many reasons to be grateful:
–A husband who loves me
–A sweet little girl who just turned six and a little boy coming any day now
–A network of family and friends that I cherish
–Daily opportunities to serve the kingdom of God, together with a church family that is precious to me
–A job that I’m passionate about in a school that I love
–Beautiful music and good books and 280 calorie pints of low-carb Halo ice cream
There are also things that could stir up discontement if I allow it. I choose not to dwell on those here, because the truth is that even the blessings I listed above exist within the realm of a broken, suffering world.
The only safe place to fix my eyes is on the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:18). I can trust Him with my blessings and with the difficult things too. So, I lift my eyes to Jesus–the only Source of real contentment.
And I am grateful.