July 1st, I left my full-time work. For over 33 years I had pastored local churches. I left in order to help anchor a new business in mediation to reach people with peace who are living in conflict. I was doing this out of direct guidance from Jesus. This meant living without a regular income. It meant seeking to build something which did not yet exist. It meant training people how to be proactive and preemptive with conflict, skills many wish to avoid.
Somehow, in my head, there was a ready market for peace. Just look at the news! I’d make a few calls and Jesus and I would get to bring peace to many lives and He’d provide for my needs. I’m in pursuit of bringing peace, while within, at times, I struggled to experience it.
Alongside this anticipation of building peace and income, was the whole COVID season; it adjusted the picture. Things got blurry. It was harder to reach into people’s lives. Conflict was heightened but so was avoidance. I have struggled, as I have written previously, with how to manage my own feelings, let alone keep slogging forward.
I spoke with my good friend Mike this week and he mentioned a study he and his men’s group is doing by Andy Stanley titled “In the Meantime.” It was written a few years back, but is even more apropos today. For all of us are in this space “between.” For some, the space is filled with more activity than ever, for others, it is a season which feels like exile and they wonder when it will end. Mike had just listened to the study dealing with contentment. (You can find the whole study for free on the app called Anthology.)
The word contentment stood out in our conversation. It lit up like a neon sign in the fog. I need that. What does it look like? When I thought of the word as a person, the one who came to mind was our daughter Grace, 33.
I’ve watched her take this whole season in stride. It has been remarkable. She has not reacted, she has pivoted and adjusted yet remained the same shining hope-filled beacon of light. She brings such beauty into lives around her. If there is a picture of contentment, it is her.
I asked her the other week, “How do you handle this season like you do? How do you remain non-reactive? How do you stay so peaceful?”
When I asked it, we ended up talking about something more pressing, but the question hung out there. She returned to it yesterday over breakfast at her place.
She served a fabulous stir-fry of broccoli, onions and mushrooms, scrambled eggs, and I brought homemade cinnamon rolls to share which we heated up in her oven. We ate overlooking the city of Portland from her 15th floor apartment, sitting on her dark grey couch, her small, round, ceramic-topped coffee table in front of us, which held our plates, my mug of tea and her mug of coffee. All the bright trees filled the world with color below us. Her answer was like the Apostle Paul’s. Grace had learned the mystery of being content in all and every circumstance.
The Apostle Paul had used a unique word when writing “I have learned to be content” in the famous Philippians 4:11-13 passage. It was a word that could be phrased, “I have been initiated into the mysteries” of contentment. Some translations capture this idea. He’d pulled the word from the culture around him. It is the only time it is used in all the New Testament. In the world it referred to being initiated into some pagan religion through a rite. Paul used it of being initiated into contentment. He’d discovered the mystery because God had immersed him in it, taken him through something else, to it.
Paul stood in stark contrast to King Solomon. Solomon penned in his book Ecclesiastes, how he had sought to plumb the depths of wisdom through every excess and experienced only meaninglessness. He had discovered the opposite of contentment. Paul, in contrast, converted dramatically into a follower of Jesus, had aligned himself with Christ. He experienced every level of suffering. Jesus had promised, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul was initiated into contentment, something Solomon never had found, even with all his riches, pleasures, and explorations.
Here’s the whole Philippians passage:
… I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.Philippians 3:11-13
Above where Paul penned in this translation “learned the secret,” that is the word for being initiated into the mystery. Grace had embraced the secret.
While I felt like I was one of the Israelites grumbling in the desert, Grace was a shining star rising above the whole experience. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert and 70 years in exile and I was chaffing against 8 months of quarantine. But Grace? She was content, joyful, and at peace.
As we talked over breakfast, she shared something beautiful. It was so simple and profound. She practiced gratefulness, daily.
Grace created a voice memo she plays and replays each morning. Grace found that to listen to her own voice listing gratefulness, causes her to hear those statements within her heart throughout the day.
When I look just behind Paul’s statement of contentment, he instructs his readers to do the same. He says for them to rejoice, to be anxious for nothing but instead pray for everything, and to fix their thoughts on what is true, honorable and right, “if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things and the God of Peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Contentment comes with God’s presence.
Grace and Paul inspired me. Based upon her list, I wrote my own. Here’s what I have written, recorded and begun to listen to. It is powerful to hear this daily announcement.
I am grateful for another day.
I am grateful to be able to open my eyes and behold the beauty of this incredible world.
I am grateful to be living in this body that is perfectly formed and functions so well. For my beating heart, each expansion of my lungs, blood rushing through my arteries and veins. A clear and focused mind. Hands eager to serve. Feet walking peace into the world.
I. Give. You. Thanks.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for love in my life. For Karen and for each member of my family. (Here I detail out the names of our daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews)
I am grateful for the door You and Randy opened to me through his daughter Amy into this new world of mediation on June 3, 2019. Each day, Randy, Jerome, Doug, Andrew, Kathy, Miranda and Manny fill my life with an abundance of love, belief, wisdom and support.
I am grateful for each person who will cross my path this day.
I am grateful for each business partner I have and the ones I will have in the future.
Thank you, Jesus, for abundant hope, blessings and grace.
Thank you for a calling, direction and purpose.
Today, Lord, I commit,
That kindness will rule my relationships;
Honesty will form my words;
Faith will guide my steps;
Love will be my theme;
No regrets will be the testimony I leave behind.
Sitting in Grace’s apartment, listening as she read her version of the above statement, filled my heart. It was as if the colors of the trees outside burst within me. Such peace.
Be initiated into the mystery of contentment through the discipline of gratitude. Bring your thoughts back to gratitude, back to a focus upon all that is worthy of praise. As Paul wrote of this practice, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (4:13).