13. Practicing Contentment

28 03 2018

Chapter 12: Practicing Contentment or What Comes Next?

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 13 of 13 posts)

There is something about contentment that drains the poison out of pain. But can we find contentment in the middle of suffering?  I believe we can if we are willing to stop long enough to interrupt the terrible cycle of worry and fear, anger and resentment which lurk in the shadows of every affliction. If we will begin to practice a different posture, we can navigate those difficult trails with goodness and mercy following us in a pretty surprising way (Psalm 23:6).

In and of myself, I do not have a satisfactory answer that will make sense of every hard thing, but when I stop and come before my Heavenly Father, He can speak to me and lead me to a new place. It was never His plan that we fret about everything or try to fix everything — to live in a giant knot. As Edith writes in a prayer, we should admit:

I know I am finite. You made me to be finite…

It is the opposite posture of the child has who insists he is BIG and can do everything or make sense out of everything. What he really needs to do is admit he is LITTLE and is in desperate need of help from someone bigger. We should come with open hands to our Father, in a listening posture, admitting that our understanding and ability falls short. We come to Him desiring to offload the angst of the unknown, inviting our Father to GIVE US a contentment in our circumstances that only He has the power to give.

Contentment weeds out the threats that can come our way when we are in a hard place. It steps between us and despair and calls us to stop and see and realize the love and Presence of God.

We don’t just need this contentment for our own troubled times, we need it for all the troubling things we see in the world and in the lives of our friends and family. The world is broken, and we care!  We ought to care, but we also need to know our place in it all. Edith prays a beautiful prayer in this last chapter…

I cannot do everything: I cannot take care of everybody. Please bring to me the people of Your choice for me to help, and send others to someone else for help. Please send me to the places of your choice and take others to other places to help. Please give me wisdom in choice and the strength for what You want me to do. And then let me accept what You give me with thanksgiving and the grace to really receive Your gifts, as well as to be compassionate and ready to help others (249).

To me that prayer just makes me exhale. If I stop what I am doing and take the time to ask what my assignment is, I will find that some things are my assignment and some aren’t and there are many things I can hand over to God and leave there. That may fall into the parenting category, ministry category, neighbourhood category, workplace category, world-wide category…

Why don’t we just ask our Father what He wants us to do and do that? Why don’t we leave what isn’t our assignment alone? If we would — cover everything with prayer and leave it with Him — we would learn to walk with more contentment.

Being actively content is a command and when we allow problems (ours or others) to rule the minutes of our days, Edith writes what she observed in her own life:

“It came to me that I was cancelling out the possible contentment of the immediate moment, so filled with the things which God had given me richly to enjoy. I was ignoring these wonders by concentrating on the problems of the present and the future” (251).

She writes,

“You and I are to really learn to be content. We need to practice this as we would practice the scales on a piano. It came to me that an active contentment is a moment by moment practice, not a big sweeping thing…It is the active noticing of what we have been given in any one moment to enjoy which brings the active result of contentment” (252).

This kind of advice has now been given over and over. Edith wrote this in 1978 and haven’t we heard it again and again over the years? But are we more content or less?

Edith writes,

We need to stop to actively “practice contentment,” time after time. Fran [my husband] was so struck by what I wrote about this that he and I have often stopped recently just to point out not just sunsets and stars and birds, but also the curve of a roof, the changing red of a vine in autumn — the immediate seeable, feelable, hearable, smellable things of the moment that we might ignore in the midst of a concentrated conversation. Contentment involves stopping to notice the heavens ‘which declare the glory of God’ and the richness of all that we can enjoy in spite of the immediate hindrances or afflictions or difficulties that threaten our activities — and in spite of the fears and worries that burden our thoughts” (252).

For me, the way this book ends is the right call. It is about really surrendering our lives to the mystery and beauty of God’s ways. To know Him well so that trust grows. To listen intently because He IS speaking. To step out of our short-sightedness and take a look at the big view.

And sometimes our bigger and broader view won’t make sense of it all either. We will need a bigger view still and might not get that view while stuck in the limitations of this present life.  Will we be content in our longings to wait for when Jesus will make “all things new” as the book Revelation promises?

The fix needed, ultimately, is bigger than the short-term things we lock onto when we feel a press in life. The relief we need, is deeper than the break we wish we had or think we deserve. God promises to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, which means He will do more also with our sufferings than we could imagine.

“…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:16

I again extend my thanks to this mentor, Edith Schaeffer, for pointing out that Jesus is still in the middle of everything. He is right here, ready and WILLING to give us His peace, His strength, His perspective, and…beautifully…His contentment.

I pray that for you…and for me! Don’t despair.

— Teresa Klassen

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One response

29 03 2018
Cynthia McIntosh

Good morning friend,

My THIRD reading of this in just two days. Encouraging – wise words.

Thankyou.

And praise to Him who has led and encouraged you to return to and complete your musings on this great book.

Hugs – Happy Easter. What a “day” that will be for you – Easter, Mike’s birthday and April fools day?!?! It may need a “posting” as to how you can “reconcile all things” this coming Resurrection Day! 💕

Looking forward to this summer – don’t get too much Pickle Ball proficiency without me.

Xo C

Sent from my iPhone

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