Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11
My mind has been a swirling vortex, full of ideas of what to write about next. In the midst of this vortex, I created a written list and promptly misplaced it. If you are familiar with the Myers/Briggs personality temperament, you can guess that I identify with being a P versus a J. Maybe someday I will blog about personality tests, but right now I should go back to the lost list. I remembered that some of the thoughts on the list included writing about gratitude, habits, hygge (google that term, it’s a great idea to embrace) and ideas to strengthen marriage. I am sure that I will eventually write about these topics, but none of them seemed to inspire me for this week. One of my goals for this blog was that I would listen more intently to the whispers of God and let His voice influence my writing. In the past, the next idea would solidify as soon as I finished posting my latest blog, but this week I had the swirling vortex!
I started my morning out frantically trying to narrow down a topic and put my fingers to the keyboard and write. Still the swirling vortex, so I decided to take a walk. I bundled myself up in layers and headed out in the frigid air. This cold November walk around my neighborhood cleared my head and made room for the voice of God. Not an audible voice, not really a voice at all, but rather the smell of someone’s wood-burning fireplace reminded me of one of God’s principles. It amazes me that if we take some time, remove distractions, and pay attention to our surroundings, God can use simple ideas to illustrate His principles. He wants to speak to us, we just need to be present and listen.
I actually stopped for a few moments to inhale the aroma of the wood burning while the principle of contentment permeated my thoughts. According to the dictionary, contentment is defined as the feeling of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status or situation. Why would the smell of wood burning remind me to be content, you might ask?
One of my greatest dreams is to own a home with a real wood-burning fireplace. I don’t want a substitute like a wood stove or a gas fireplace. I want an old fashioned fireplace, one where I could hire Dick Van Dyke to be my chimney sweep while he sings about Mary Poppins. I love the idea of waking up on a cold morning, stoking the fire, curling up with a warm throw, and reading my Bible against the backdrop of flickering flames. The smell and the sound of the wood crackling would instantly calm the swirling vortex. I envision decorating the raw edged wooden mantle with heirloom mementos and pictures of my family. I imagine future grandchildren making s’mores at the fire on Christmas Eve while listening to their Poppy reading The Littlest Angel and Luke’s account of the birth of our savior. Yet, I live in a home with no fireplace or mantle while I content myself with the smell of someone else’s fireplace.
It’s important to have dreams. They inspire us and motivate us to set goals. The poet Langston Hughes said, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Personally, I want to fly and have no desire to stay on the ground. But being content doesn’t mean you give up on your dreams. It just means you recognize where you are, or what you have, and choose to be satisfied until your circumstances change.
Unfortunately, choosing to be satisfied can be hard in today’s society. With the advent of social media, it is very easy to compare my life to the lives I see in the pictures of others. Their lives are on display in amazing vacations to exotic locations while my latest vacation had to be canceled due to budget constraints. I see their beautifully designed homes with aged wooden floors that gleam in the sunlight while my twenty-year-old kitchen linoleum is dull and lifeless. I see an Instagram influencer in an adorable fall outfit with mid-calf leather boots while I try on multiple leather boots for my fall wardrobe and can’t find a pair that fit comfortably over my bunions. Comparison to someone else’s Instagram life can rob me of my contentment!
I could cancel all my social media accounts and maybe that would make me content. But, somehow, I don’t think that is the answer. I need to learn to look at other’s people lives and rejoice with them over their successes and blessings. I also need to recognize that what I am seeing is just highlights. What I am not seeing is the everyday nitty-gritty of living, where the wooden floors are full of dust bunnies, or the hours they spent shopping for boots.
Paul, one of the greatest missionaries ever, says he learned that whatsoever state he was in to be content. This is a man who was beaten multiple times, shipwrecked three times and imprisoned. He made a conscious decision to be content, even knowing that he would likely die while in prison.
If you look at my Facebook highlights for the last nine years, you might think that my life has been amazing. You will see the times my family has traveled on the East Coast, you will see pictures of family and friends visiting us, and you will see marriages, graduations and celebrations. You will see some amazing highlights, but what you will not see are life’s challenges that I don’t post on Facebook.
I haven’t been shipwrecked like Paul, but I have moved to a new state where I desperately missed my family and friends. I could have stayed miserable, but after some time, I had to choose to be content and find joy in Pennsylvania. I haven’t been beaten with whips, but I have had two surgeries in the last three years, and dealt with an auto-immune disease on a daily basis for the last 15 years. I could bemoan the fact that one of my fingers is deformed because of my condition, but instead I choose to use my fingers to write. I have not ended up in prison, but have had to deal with hardships, including losing a beloved mother-in-law and my husband losing his job three times due to layoffs. Even in the midst of those hardships, I chose to be content and count my blessings.
Like Paul, I too have learned to be content, even if the fireplace is still just a dream and a wonderful smell in my neighborhood.