“I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11
Recently I read a magazine article called “Want to be Happier? Start Here.” The authors (Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine) went on to state, “Too many people believe their lives would be more satisfying, if only… But you have all the tools you need for more joy right now. Happiness is a state of mind, not a goal. The life you want is here, now, waiting for you to grab it. Too many of us spend our lives planning and hoping and dreaming about how winderful life would be, if only….” The authors went on the write about how we should, “Focus on the present. Don’t spend your time brooding over the past or counting on the future to provide satisfaction.”
Reading the article reminded me of how I had spent almost all of my life looking for something in the future to bring me true peace and happiness. There seemed to be a giant ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach 24 hours a day, either waiting for some impending disaster to strike or hoping for some “thing” that would bring an end to my circumstances and happiness eventually. I’m sure, for whatever reason, that ball of anxiety had been born in me as a child and I lived through much of my adult years with that same mentality.
I can’t remember a time in my life when there wasn’t some thought of, “Once I grow up and leave home, then things will be okay.” Or, “Once I meet a man and fall in love, then I will be happy.” Or, “If I could only get married, then I would be happy.” And, of course, marriage led to, “Once I have children, then I things will be better.” And after those children were born and the many challenges of being a parent became evident, I remember constantly thinking, “Once these children grow up, I can find my life again and then I’ll be happy!”
And through all those adult years of growing up, getting married and raising a family, there were myriads of thoughts that material possessions would bring me happiness. “If only I could by a new car, I’d be happy.” Or, “I need to find a new job, then I’ll be happy.” And once married and living in a small house, thoughts of, “If we just had a bigger house, we would be happier.” I could go on and on with endless examples of how I have been “wishing my life away” for many years, always looking down the road for something to happen to bring me true peace, joy, and happiness, but I think by now you get the picture!
Don’t get me wrong. There have been many events in my life that have brought great joy and happiness. But those “things” or “events” only brought momentary happiness until the newness wore off and there would soon return that familiar feeling of anxiety and discontent that always led to yet another goal or another desire for something else.
Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that he had learned to be content, no matter what his circumstances. The true secret of being content lies in your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul had experienced a life changing event on the road to Damascus that transformed him from the hard, cruel, religious leader he had been most of his life to a truly “born again” person who had come to know the reality of Jesus Christ. Paul knew the truth of who Jesus was and how meaningful Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection was, and he had learned through many adverse circumstances that nothing could take away his relationship with the true living God. In fact, it was the depth of his relationship with Jesus Christ that gave Paul the strength to endure.
Romans 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: `For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Surely Paul and the disciples and the early Christians endured much more hardship than any of us today will ever have to experience, and yet they remained confident that God loved them. Although I, too, had a “Damascus Road” experience and came to know the true born again salvation of Jesus Christ, it wasn’t until many years later that I came to understand just how much God really loves me. And along with the growing knowledge of His love has come a peace and contentment like I have never known before.
For you see, it’s in the living through circumstances every moment of every day and allowing God to lead us, that we experience His love and His provision. It’s not something “out there, down the road,” that’s going to happen. It’s in every moment of every day, whether good or bad. It wasn’t until several years after my divorce that I quit living my own life as a person who had a “head knowledge” of God’s love and salvation. Through circumstances that forced me to let go of the reins of my life, I began to lean more and more on God, and in that leaning I moved into a “heart knowledge” and a true relationship with my creator. Through the years following my divorce, God led me on a journey that I can only describe as similar to being on a roller coaster ride, sometimes having the time of my life and loving every minute of it and sometimes wanting nothing more than for the ride to stop and let me get off. And sometimes the roller coaster of my life would slow down and I would hear God whisper, “Okay, do you want off?” But my response has been, “No, God, I want to ride again!”
Where my life before divorce had been one of “gaining my life” by attaining goals and achieving certain milestones, my life after divorce has been one of great loss, difficulty, and struggle to learn that God is truly a good God and I can stand alone on my own two feet because He will always be beside me. And no matter what circumstances God leads me through, the underlying message is always the same: God loves me, He is a good God who will never leave me nor forsake me, and no matter what, I can be content and at peace because of His love.
I have also learned to live in the moment, not looking back to what could have been, what should have been or what has been, and not anxiously awaiting some point in the future where things hopefully will be better. Having a grandson has taught me to “stop and smell the roses” and enjoy those little things in life that only children see. I have learned “whatever state I am in, therewith to be content,” for God is ever present and He is leading me one step at a time, one day at a time down the path of the rest of my life. It is the depth of my relationship with Him and the depth of the knowledge of His love that is the secret of being content.