It has been nearly a year since I first published the piece telling readers of my wife’s passing. There were sequels to the original piece that were often a bit gritty, telling you that I had some emotional struggles in the aftermath of that misfortune.
Somewhat ironically, years ago, my late wife hung a framed needlepoint placard in the back hallway in our home that proffers an important bromide “Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of what you already have.” We have heard this expressed in other ways as well. “Count your many blessings.’ “View the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.”
An untold number of times I have hurriedly walked past that fixture ignoring that message on my way out the door, but occasionally have taken leave to read and venerate on that proposition. It represents a principle that almost all of us can agree on, yet it is one few of us have ever mastered, myself chief among them.
Yet on many occasions I have considered how empowering it would be to live out that edict. We have heard time and again the reminder that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. An anecdote from an article by clergyman Steven J. Cole portrays this very vividly…An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his copilot. “See that little lake?” he said. “When I was a kid I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.”
The point is that we sometimes wish we were in a different situation, only to realize we might rather be in the original position. I remember looking forward to being discharged from Army in June of 1980. Six months later I was watching the movie “White Christmas” and, the actors were performing a song called “I wish I was back in the Army,” pointing out the benefits. I had just been laid-off from my job and wished I was back in the Army.
Even earlier in my life, an older friend came to my house to give a presentation. I had told neighborhood kids about it, but when it was time to begin, nobody had showed up. I felt dejected, thinking the whole thing was a failure. My friend said to me "Bob, before you can get anything more, you have to be thankful for what you already have." Just at that moment, a group of kids showed up together.
The needlepoint embodies and is parallel to the admonition given by the Apostle Paul in Philippians Chapter 4:11-12…
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
In the common vernacular of today, we might say that Paul learned how to roll with the punches. Some might argue that this is a cop-out of sorts. It is settling for less than what is attainable, etc. We have this theme drummed into us relentlessly, courtesy of Madison Avenue psychology. We see products sold using the images of young, vibrant and beautiful people having the time of their lives. The implication is that this product is responsible for that scenario, or that people of that ilk use the advertised product. “Go for all the gusto in life, right?”
The problem is that life is also full of a lot of curve balls we can’t see coming our way. If contentment is just about circumstances and never about attitude, then contentment is just a function of chance and extraordinarily good fortune.
Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that things are always great for the rich and famous, or the lucky lottery winner. If only we could be like them, we would be content. But just imagine how disillusioning it would be for the wealthy person, who can afford to buy a fleet of sports cars, buys them, then discovers that lack of contentment is still present.
A large number of motion pictures have been devoted to biographical accounts of the late singer Elvis Presley. In one such movie, the actor playing Presley frequently bemoans his lack of fulfillment and emptiness, despite reaching the pinnacle of stardom. I doubt this is uncommon, yet we are shocked to hear the news of some famous or wealthy person taking their own life.
In 1 Timothy 6:6-7 Paul again reminds us.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
My Father used to tell me the exact same thing in my youth. And consider our peace of mind is at stake in abiding by that simplicity.
I have had my hard knocks in life to be sure. In addition to the recent death of my wife, February 4th was the 13th anniversary of my house burning to the ground. A total loss. Yet it takes all of five minutes to find someone with a life situation that causes me embarrassment that I ever felt sorry for myself. I’m a work in progress as much as anyone, but maybe we were looking in the wrong place, such as the frantic individual who searches fruitlessly for their car keys, while all the while holding them unknowingly in their own hands.
Something to consider?© Robert Meyer
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