Sunday, November 25, 2012

What does Contentment Look Like? Some Common Myths

Am I content at home? I can say, irrevocably, YES. How did I arrive there? It wasn't easy. But you may have a different notion of what I mean by the word content, so let me elucidate further. Here are some myths about what contentment looks and feels like.

Myth #1: Contentment means I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.

NO, sorry, that won't happen until, well, I've died and gone to heaven. It doesn't mean everything in my life is the way I want it. Contentment consists of knowing the parameters of real life in an imperfect world where I will live imperfectly, with circumstances likewise imperfect, and accepting them. Peace comes when you know you are doing the right thing, brightening the corner where you are, and pleasing your Lord and Savior.

Paul speaks here. Philippians 4:11-1(ESV)
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Myth #2: Contentment at home means no conflicts.

My daughter recently said to me, "Sometimes it feels like our home is a battle ground." We had had an especially tough period with conflict and relational difficulties. I rubbed her back and said, "Well, hopefully most of the time it is a refuge. But there will be battles to be fought, and if we don't fight them, then problems can fester and get worse."

Myth #3: Contentment means I'm just waiting through this temporary season of my life until I can leave.

If you have little children in your home and you are salving yourself with the comforting thought that your present situation is only temporary, then you haven't really given you heart to your children. You are still looking for an escape plan. With true contentment comes an abiding joy, a desire to be home indefinitely, even after the children are grown and you have grandchildren to visit you. It doesn't mean you can't someday take a job or volunteer outside your home. But that shouldn't be a pie-in-the-sky vision for you as if then--and only then--you will get to fulfill your true potential and be happy. The grass is always greener on the other side. But, like the Three Billy Goats Gruff, you may find on your way to that green pasture on the other side,  an ogre lurking under the bridge, or poisonous weeds mingled in that luscious grass you so coveted.

Myth #4: Contentment means I'll settle for this season at home until I can finally follow MY real calling, to pursue MY gifts.

I think there is too much emphasis among some Christians about the need to identify one's spiritual gifts in order to pursue them. It can quickly become a poorly-veiled attempt at self-actualization. God doesn't give you gifts in order to feel more fulfilled. He gives them to you to serve others. Your calling IS to serve your family. Put your family first, serve them well, and your gifts will automatically be employed in the process, without any effort of your own. You will also find out what weaknesses you need to work on and strengthen. Family life is intended to be a sanctifying experience. It's not easy. Do hard things.

This may be hard teaching for you. There are times when we need to hear some hard teaching. I pray that the Holy Spirit will use it in your life to mould you into His likeness.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. -Titus 2 ESV

My Annual Holiday Mary-Martha Struggle

I have worked hard to love cooking. That may sound like a contradiction, but it's possible and it's true. I know that cooking is central to my role as helpmeet to my husband, home-centered woman, and hospitality hostess to visitors. Cooking is something my mother loves to do. My oldest daughter inherited that love from her. Somehow it skipped me in the generational hand-down. But I have read Debbie Pearls' Created to be His Help-Meet and I have studied my own husband, and I have a drive to keep our houseful healthy--so I have thrown myself heartily into the task of relearning healthy cooking methods a la Weston Price, and organic gardening and husbandry a la Back to Eden and Joel Saladin. I have taken up the cross and died daily a la Paul, counted it all joy a la James, and have had victory in a big way. Thank you, Jesus.

Then came Thanksgiving. I invited three families for a total of 20 people, cooking two brined turkeys, two gravies, four pumpkin pies and three types of dressing, including the gluten-free and nut-free options. When my pregnant daughter became ill the same week I spent a day making broth and caring for her and her children. I did it all with joy and vigor, until Wednesday night. I still needed to fix a meal with my 19yo daughter Alexa helping, and host Aaron's sweetheart as part of it. Aaron and Emily pitched in and were very helpful as well. Still I found myself weighted down and distracted with many things. Sound familiar?

By ten o'clock that evening, as I put the second turkey into the oven to slow-cook overnight, the old familiar friend Resentment visited me. "Why don't my children all want to be in the kitchen with me helping me out? Why are they sitting there watching Fellowship of the Ring for the tenth time instead? Why do I have to ask continually for more help?" I knew the lateness of the hour was making me vulnerable to attack, and I told myself to not listen to the thoughts. They did not steal my joy, and I won the battle, just barely.

Thursday morning at 10am we went to a church service and spotted a family of nine from out of town that we knew. I asked the inevitable: "Do you have any plans for dinner today?" "No, not really." "Do you want to join us? I cooked two turkeys. We have plenty." And they accepted. So our number increased to 29 with two hour's notice before the meal. I felt so hospitable. I knew John, who had preached on hospitality the Sunday previous, would be pleased.

As the afternoon went on and we filled our bellies with good food, with contributions from the guests, I had the nagging feeling that I was not getting enough "relational" time in with my guests and family during the gathering. I was drawn inexorably to the kitchen, because "there was so much to do". I had many hands helping, but still I became rummy with exhaustion. I called at one point for help, rather loudly and probably not winsomely, and a sweet young lady came to help. One of my children, who will remain anonymous, refused to help her when I asked, making me feel like a bad mom for not training them up better.

I had had great plans to lead the crowd in some singing of hymns, rounds, and other favorite songs, but I was just too tired and busy. In the end, the helpers finished cleaning the kitchen entirely, to my great relief. I was happy, everyone was happy, we had honored and thanked the Lord for His abundance, and I had pleased my husband.

Today I am analyzing it all. Did I go wrong anywhere? Why don't I want to repeat this scenario for Christmas? Why have I sworn off cooking for next month's gathering, announcing to the family that I will help with everything else, BUT? Was I too hasty to make the announcement?

I have this picture in my mind of how I would LIKE to spend my holiday with my grandchildren, reading stories to them, playing games with them, teaching them songs, and talking about the spiritual meaning of the season.  Somehow that, to me, is how I should be doing it, doing the Mary thing, not the Martha thing. But it doesn't go that way. I find myself stuck--no, choosing to be--in the kitchen.

So today I searched the web for devotionals on the familiar biblical story of Martha and Mary. What was it about Martha that was wrong? Was it that she worked too hard? That she didn't do it joyfully?

I found this teaching from Mark Driscoll illuminating and helpful. He gives Martha a break (whew!) in his usual inimical way:

And there is a good aspect to Martha. I’ll show it to you here in Luke 10:38, “a woman named Martha welcomed him [Jesus] into her house.” Jesus comes to town, who’s the only person that invites him over? Martha! That’s a good thing. There are benefits to hanging out around Martha. Ask Mary. All right? Apparently, Mary’s sitting in the living room and she’s, you know, I don’t know, getting her quiet time with the Lord, and because Martha invites him over she gets time to sit at Jesus’ feet. That’s a real bonus for Mary that Martha made possible.

He concludes by saying:

I think the point of the Bible here is Mary first, Martha second. Spend time with Jesus, then get stuff done. To worship like Mary and then to work like Martha. If all Mary ever does is sits there and studies and never does anything, she’s sinful in a completely different way. All right? This would be like the guy who’s on his thirty-second year of Bible college. It’s like, “Dude, seriously, go do something.” But if all she does is Martha, do, do, do, do, do, go do, go do, go, go, go, go? She’s gonna end up distracted, anxious, troubled. And so the key is Mary first, Martha second.
Worship, then work. Worship God before you work so that you could worship God in your work. And do the work that God has called you to do, not chasing your potential, but pursuing your calling. Not volunteering yourself as the savior of the world to plug every hole and meet every need. That job’s already taken. And instead to spend time with the savior of the world, asking him what portion of the mission he’s entrusted to your service. So we want Mary’s heart and we want Martha’s hands. Amen? That’s what we want. We want Mary’s heart, Martha’s hands.
And, as Sue Kramer of Internet Cafe Devotionals has said about Mary and Martha,"I realized that this verse is really all about balance and needs to be taken into context with the whole scope of expectation that God has for us as wives and women of God...Balance. God’s Word is filled with balance."
So we shall see if I get it right for Christmas. And for 2013. And the year after that.