Fighting for Contentment

IMG_2780I have never heard God’s audible voice while praying. I would remember something like that.

God does, however, speak into my heart through his Holy Spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I came before God frustrated and confused, not even sure what to even say to him. Unsure of where to start, I just started describing my pain. Two sentences into my prayer, the Spirit moved:

There is nothing missing from your life that will fill you up…except me. 

His message was so clear and so direct it was just as effective as if he had shouted into my ear with a megaphone.

I realized that the main source of my frustration was my desire for nearly every part of my life to be different—to do something else, to be somewhere else, to be someone else. Not this, not here, not me. 

Discontentment. 

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “content” I immediately think of stuff and how blessed my life is with physical things. I think about how I need to be happy with what I have. Well, quite honestly, I am happy with what I have. My needs are met, and so are {most} of my wants. 

DSC00100But content actually doesn’t mean happy, it means satisfied.

And while I have also been satisfied with my possessions, I have not been satisfied with the life I am living or the person I am. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dissatisfaction with the status quo can lead to positive change. But, as I’ve come to understand, it can also lead to a negative attitude.

The problem is that I have been trying to find mental and emotional satisfaction in my situation, in my location, and in myself. True satisfaction is found only in Christ.

So how can I find that satisfaction in my relationship with him?

Well one thing I firmly believe is that contentment and gratitude are linked. How can I possibly be content in him if I am not grateful for who he is, what he has done and what he continues to do?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

If I want to root out the discontentment in my life, and seek satisfaction, then the first step is cultivating a grateful heart. If it sounds simple, it is. But simple does not equal easy. In fact, some of the most simple things are the most difficult to obtain…and the most worth it.

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Proven True

The other night my family sat down to spend some time in Scripture and pray. It was my brother Eddie’s turn to lead our time together, and he took us to Daniel chapter 2.

We all know the drill—the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has a bad dream, his counselors cannot interpret it, so he calls in the prophet Daniel who is gives the interpretation of the dream by God’s revelation.

Instead of reading Daniel chapter 2, Eddie summarized it and then pointed out that almost the exact same thing happens in Daniel Chapter 4. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, calls in his counselors and wise men to tell him what it means (they can’t…again) so he asks for Daniel who then interprets the dream for the King.

What Eddie wisely observed in these chapters is not how Daniel handled the situations, but rather how King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t. 

In both circumstances Nebuchadnezzar chose to go to his counselors and “wise” men to tell him the meaning of his dream. He sought answers from those who were incapable of providing him with truth. He went to the world, and the world failed him. Twice. Then Nebuchadnezzar went to Daniel, a prophet of God, who was capable of providing truth. And Daniel had the answers…twice. 

Nebuchadnezzar did not learn his lesson, and neither did his son Belshazzar who does the exact same thing in Daniel chapter 5. The reality is that those of us who are Believers—who know the Gospel of Jesus and have seen and heard the testimony of His ministry—haven’t truly learned our lesson either. As my brother asked on Tuesday evening, “How often do we go to the world for answers to our life questions rather than going straight to God’s Word?”

The world, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors were, is completely incapable of giving us the answers we need in order to live life well. Yet even as those who testify to the living, breathing Truth of Jesus Christ are often tempted to find answers outside of Him.

Our lives are dedicated to Jesus, so our life-questions must be directed to Him and Him alone.

“Every word of God proves true;he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” ~ Prov. 30:5

Joy in Pain

Pain doesn’t take a break during the holidays. In fact, for a lot of people, the holidays are some of the most painful and difficult times of the year. It doesn’t seem right that in the midst of Christmas, a time when we celebrate the original coming of our Savior, people are hurting. The circumstances and the celebration don’t seem to match up, or do they?

During Christmas time we focus a lot on the joyous and awe-inducing parts of Jesus’ birth—the pregnant virgin, the star with a mind of its own, singing angels, believing shepherds, and the traveling wise men. In every Christmas carol there are lines about the peace and joy that Christ’s birth brought to Earth.

But we also need to take the time to think about what that manger/stable scene was really like—smelly, dirty, uncomfortable, and cold. Not to mention the fact that the only midwife/doctor available was a young, newly married carpenter. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ situation was hardly ideal. It involved a lot of stress, pain and discomfort.

Maybe I am just strange or a tad morbid, but Jesus’ rough start in life is actually a source of comfort and relief to me. Life, even in the midst of the joy and wonder at the Savior’s birth, wasn’t easy. Jesus identifies with us in our weakness. He walked through pain and experienced hardship. He knows and understands our circumstances.

The birth of Jesus Christ—the life that He brought into this world—gives us cause to have joy in the midst of our pain.

“Allow the truth of God’s Word to meet you in your sorrow. Remind yourself of the joy found in an absolute perfect and everlasting life in Christ.”  – Pastor Brad Greiner

 

Me and My Roommate

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.59 PMThe adorable one on the right is my little sister (the picture is in black and white because  the lighting in our room is horrible). Both of us are holding a ball of yarn and crochet hooks. A rather normal state for two girls to be in, I suppose. Only, not the girl on the left—I don’t crochet. In addition, I cannot knit, sew, mend, or do needlepoint. My creativity is best applied elsewhere….I also just have no patience to learn or finish those kind of projects.

So why am I holding a ball of yarn and a crochet hook? Because this afternoon I asked my sister to teach me how to crochet a specific (a.k.a easy) kind of scarf. Did I have any wild desire to learn? No. Will I ever make a scarf again? Eh, probably not.

The reason I asked my sister to teach me is because I recently recommitted to being a better sister. Let me rewind and give some background here.

I mentioned that I am learning a lot right now. The neat thing is that all of these lessons are reinforcing each other. It can be rather overwhelming sometimes, but I am getting used to it.

About two weeks ago I talked with one of my mentors who helped me formulate a life mission statement—a few sentences that describe my heart, my passion and my desire as I seek to live for the Lord. Within that statement I describe my heart to invest in other people and help them dig deeper into their relationship with the Lord. My mentor challenged me to start thinking of ways that I want to apply that desire.

That night, I felt convicted that the person I needed to start with was my little sister, Judy. I love Judy very much. She is a perky little bundle of smiles, laughter, joy and beauty that I have always enjoyed being around. But in the 13 years I have known her I have not truly invested in a real, solid relationship with her.

As I prayed over that mission statement I began to realize the powerful influence that I have on my sister’s life—negative and positive. God showed me that the words I say and the actions I take do affect the young woman she is becoming. To think that I have that kind of influence on a person’s life is simultaneously terrifying and humbling.

I resolved to start—that night—being a better sister to Judy. I actually went and gave her a hug, told her I loved her and said I was going to start making a better effort. She looked up at me and I wondered how many times I had said this to her and then never followed through. Too many. This time had to be different.

The next day, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor challenged Christians to stop feeling convicted or resolving to change and actually take action. TAKE_ACTION_SIGN_movivational_and_inspirational_signs__54610.1337457936.1280.1280

BE a better sister.

Over the next week, along with just loving on Judy by talking with her about her devotionals, asking her about her day, lots of hugs, helping her with her hair and put together an outfit, I wrote out a few principles for myself to follow:

  • make an effort to talk with and listen to her
  • create time to be with just her
  • follow through on my commitments and plans

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.58 PM #3So that is how I ended up crocheting with Judy this afternoon. I found something that she is good at and enjoys doing, I told her I wanted her to teach me, I created time to learn from her, and I followed through on our plan to do it.

Woohoo. One afternoon. I know, I have no room to boast (I never do). I am going to fail time and again.  But I am praying for strength—I’m not going to quit on her or on God.

Older siblings, I we need to understand that our words and actions do have an affect on our younger siblings. No matter the nature of the relationship, it will touch the younger person in some way. We have the God-given opportunity to be the strongest force of encouragement and support in our younger siblings’ lives, second only to our parents.

We cannot waste our power simply because they are difficult to get a long with or we don’t connect well. I ask you to think and pray about renewing your commitment to be a loving presence in your siblings’ lives…then go do it. Throw up a prayer or two for me while you’re at it, please!

Be Brave

A thank-you to Annabelle for sharing this story:

Our visit was quite unexpected, but we were accorded a royal welcome. The missionaries–all of them from Scotland–quickly gathered from every part of the compound to chat with us over a particularly refreshing glass of lemonade.

As we sat there, enjoying to the full this beautiful banquet of joyous fellowship, we noticed that one member of the party–evidently a very charming young Scots-woman–was strangely silent, and I once fancied that, with no apparent cause, I caught the glint of moisture in her eyes. After a while, she quietly left us.

As soon as she had gone the senior missionary explained that to the great sorrow of them all, the husband of this lady a missionary whom they had all loved and valued, had died two days earlier–a victim of the exacting climate.

“And this morning,” he continued, “an hour or two before you arrived, she received a cable from her widowed mother in Scotland. It contained just two words. Not ‘Deeply grieved’ or ‘Loving sympathy’ or any of the conventional phrases.”

The cablegram read: “Be brave.”

F.W. Boreham, Boulevards of Paradise, pg. 147-148

Be brave.

That challenge does not deny the weight and pain of reality, it gives a shot of strength to keep moving forward.

Live bravely.

For the Days Are Evil

1239422_10152464075566564_404198548_nTuesday Morning, September 11th, 2001

As I came into the living room I saw Mom hugging Grandma, Dad buttoning up his LAPD uniform and strapping his gun to his hip, Grandpa just sitting in his arm chair—all crying and staring at footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. I didn’t know whether to to be more scared by the smoke, fire and screams coming from the TV, or by the fact that the four main adults in my life were scared too.

Mom and Dad recognized my presence when I tearfully asked, “what’s happening?!” They gave me a hug and explained that there were “bad guys trying to hurt people.” Soon I was tucked away in another room watching Mary Poppins and drinking hot cocoa—safely guarded from seeing any more disturbing images.

The next few years of my life were spent semi-oblivious to things going on in the outside world. It wasn’t until my later grammar school years that I started to put the pieces of that history together—to understand and know.

Wednesday Morning, September 11th, 2013

I woke up to the sound of my obnoxious cellphone alarm. The old wood from my bunk bed gently creaked as I hopped to my bedroom floor. I turned off my alarm and began, along with millions of other Americans across this country, to remember…

…the terror, the pain, the death

…the heartbreak, the loss, the fear

…the instigators, the victims and the heroes of 9/11/01.

~~~

My heart aches as I bear the reality of evil—it is here and it is active. Acts of sheer terror like the events of 9/11 serve as a constant reminder of that undeniable fact.

I wish I could say that the world has changed for the better in the last 12 years. But it hasn’t. Innocent Syrians are being murdered in horrific ways through chemical warfare, millions of unborn children are being killed in the womb and human trafficking is continuing to spread across nations. Genocide, murder, rape, slavery—gut wrenchingly awful.

All of this causes me (as C.S. Lewis says in his essay Learning in War-Time) to“always answer the question, ““How can you be so frivolous and selfish to think about anything but the salvation of human souls? How is it right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to Hell to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology.””

Life is frail and every second brings me a little closer to the end…and I spend most of my days studying, working so I can study, writing and reading every spare moment I get. It does not seem right. I should be on the street ministering every waking moment of my day, right?

Lewis, however, in the rest of his essay gives encouragement to Christians struggling with this question: All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not. Christianity does not simply replace our natural life and substitute a new one; it is rather a new organization which exploits, to its own supernatural ends, these natural materials.”

When I read that little passage (and countless others in Lewis’ essay) I felt as if Jesus were reminding me that I am right where he wants me to be. I am studying, working and writing that I might grow and that I might better serve him. Along the way, I am ministering to the people within my sphere of influence. It is not useless.

As you observe the evil of this world, think on these things. My encouragement to you is from Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:15-17:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Sphere of Influence

My junior year in high school I sat at my computer kicking myself for picking such a difficult essay topic—the definition of love. I had many thoughts and ideas to try and fit into a short paper, but I couldn’t seem to get past my thesis.

All I could do was to keep typing out whatever came to mind and then hit backspace until the right words came out on the screen. The quote by Isaac Singer, “The waste basket is the writer’s best friend” never felt truer to me.

As I struggled to get over my writer’s block, my friend encouraged me with these seven words: All writing should come from the heart.” This friend was seeking to help unlock whatever it was that I really wanted to say, how I really wanted to say it and what I really thought—to make it personal.

Those words have stuck with me for the last 1 1/2 years of writing. Every time I write a blog post, a letter or a journal entry, that phrase pops to the front of my consciousness, reminding me to be honest about who I am and what I think. This is the internet—it would be easy to put up a screen in order to skew peoples’ view of who I really am. But that phrase has kept me transparent and real.

A month or two ago I mentioned all of this in a “matter-of-fact” way to the friend who had helped me with that essay and I got a “really?! I don’t think I even remember that!” He had no idea that his words had made that much of an impact on me…or that those words were even capable of having such an impact on me.

The fact that I chose to listen to my friend’s encouragement has led to some rather open posts about my own spiritual struggles and life-battles. As a result, I have had the blessing of giving back to the people who have invested in me, and who have spoken into my life by writing about how they’ve blessed me. I have touched a few friends, family members and random people on the internet who I will probably never meet. All by being open, by writing from my heart, by sharing my story.

You will never know the profound effect that your words can have on a person’s life. Your sphere of influence might be doubling without you even knowing it…

~~~

An quick endnote:

My last three posts (Me? An Artist?, Not Drowning, Girl at the Beach) make the list of my favorites, but they were spread out over a long period of time. It’s time for me to get focused and a little more regular with my writing.

As of now, September 2013, I am going to be doing a bi-weekly publication. It’s not as often as I’d like, but due to school, work and another writing project, it’s really all I can give. They’ll make a writer of me yet…