My first thought waking up this morning was, “It’s Saturday,” followed by “Who cares? It’s not like I’m going anywhere.” As California begins its 4th week of the Stay Home order, I have to confess, I am struggling with the caution, the distancing, and the paranoia. The loss. I wept last night on my couch for a friend who just lost her father.
I don’t like working from home. I’ve had more than half a dozen teaching opportunities canceled. I don’t like being alone all day. Although nothing has changed with what and where I eat, I’m tired of my own cooking. Church-by-Zoom is not my favorite. And Easter. Easter is the best–but we are going to miss it all!
Do you hear it? Do you hear my discontentment? I find myself counting my disappointments. And I’m sure, at least in this, I am not alone. I hear it in the music we are listening to: “Baby, I’d be happier with you.” I feel it as I watch videos of celebrities playing “The Floor is Lava” in their palatial estates. My favorite donut shop is closed? Seriously!?
My friend Gunner reminded me yesterday that social isolation was not unfamiliar to the people of God. Stop and read his tweet slowly, out loud.
Noah in the ark, Abram in tents, Joseph in prison, Moses in a desert, David in a cave, Jonah in the deep, Jeremiah in a cistern, Daniel with the lions, Esther in Susa, Peter in prison, Paul under house arrest, John exiled on an island… and Jesus in the grave.
We talk about contentment, teach on it, and record podcasts in praise of contentment, but here is where the rubber meets the road. What am I going to think, feel, say, do, when things aren’t arranged to my preference? Like when we are told to Stay Home?
The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, author of the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment defines contentment this way:
Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.Jeremiah Burroughs, p. 2
Additionally, contentment is exhibited through a lifestyle characterized by gratitude–in other words, thankfulness for what you have. Discontentment, on the the other hand, is focusing on what you have lost or what you wish you had.
But contentment goes beyond mental and verbal assent. I used to see mental gratitude all the time when students would return from a missions trip to the developing world. “I’m so thankful for my home, for the money I have, for the abundance we have, for the family I was raised in.” Got it. But contentment has to be more than just relief that my life is more comfortable than someone else’s life.
Don’t get me wrong, it is helpful to stop and count my blessings. I’ve considered these often in the last weeks: Dogs who hang out with me all day long, landlords who are friends, a place to hike near home, an apartment that is cozy but not too small, a job that continues at home, friends who call for a virtual dinner date. I am so thankful for each of these.
But contentment directs me to find satisfaction in God alone, to recognize that He has been equally kind in both His provision and in His removal or withholding of expectations I might have. It was Paul, under house arrest, who wrote about contentment in times of want:
…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:11-13
Paul tells us the secret to surviving deprivation of family, socializing, travel, donuts: The Lord will give strength. This isn’t just a matter of screwing up my courage and trying to be happy, of getting the right feel-good playlist, of baking the best comfort food. Just a few verses before this, Paul emphasized that we could live with patience because of God’s nearness to His people–His presence is where the strength comes from.
Paul is not the only one who demonstrated contentment in difficulties. Look back up at Gunner’s list. How did those people respond in their isolation?
They didn’t just feel a vague gratitude. They acted. They moved across continents. They faced injustice. They waited with patience for God to act. They built an ark. They approached the king. They fasted and prayed and lifted their eyes to the heavens, confident that the God who called them was able to save and provide what was essentially necessary.
And here we are, surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses. Let’s run together, with contentment, the days the Lord has placed before us. I want to be both grateful for His gifts and reliant on He presence to extend His kindness to other around me.