Getting the deck painted. Making all the food. Hunting the mangy little mouse in my house. Finally getting the basement bathroom cleaned. Reading four books. Keeping up with my spiritual devotions. Praying. Answering all the text messages. Writing everything I want to write. Going to all the doctor’s appointments. Taking care of Mom. Assisting a daughter with sick children.
I’m trying to get all the things done, but all the things keep growing in number, and also – I still have a gimpy leg. We will finally take a CAT scan next week to figure out why chiropractic care and physical therapy aren’t working to relieve the worst of my pain, and are, in fact, aggravating it. Six hundred milligrams of Motrin only provides minimal relief, and my paralyzed stomach is crying out for mercy, so I’ve decided to discontinue it for the most part. I’m not much of a pill popper, and my desire is to stay off narcotics and muscle relaxers, as they make me feel oh so good in the short term, and oh, so bad in the long term.
Stress is real. Pain is real. And it’s difficult to stay content in the midst of to-do lists that are too strenuous for a body. I’m not the only one in this predicament. The Facebook and other social media posts are glamorous, in that the faces are always smiling, meals are “ammmaaaazzzing”, and vacations are incredible. I’m not discounting people’s joy and fun, but we all know that not every day of every person’s life is glamorous, amazing, or incredible. It’s monotonous, hard, and unpredictable though we strive (and sometimes succeed!) at all times for the opposite. It’s as though there’s an invisible mountain we are attempting to climb, and once there, we do everything possible to stay there. Whether it be our job, our family life, our sex life, or some other aspect of life, we like the top of the mountain, and when we are thrust off the peak and into the valley, our level of contentment plummets with us.
Give me joy, Lord, come what may. And keep me content. That’s often the prayer of the Christian, and neither one usually comes with the first plummet off the peak. No, contentment and joy often come after several plummets, hikes back to the top, more plummets, deeper plummets, a hike back to the top, and then the deepest plummet of all. It takes time and effort, both from the child of God and God Himself to get seeds of contentment and joy to grow.
By now, the reader is crying out for a solution, for the magic spiritual potion to relieve us of dissatisfaction and depression. But the writer apologizes, because though I know the source of all contentment and joy, which is Christ Himself, I don’t have a good track record of keeping my eyes, heart, and focus there.
I’m afraid I’m not the best example.
I’m a wanderer.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love, as the hymn writer expressed.
I wander because it’s so, so hard to keep my eyes and mind focused on Someone who has provided everything I need to live a godly, content, and joyful life. God is, after all, invisible to my physical eye. My unfinished deck, sick Mom, sick grandkids, hip pain, back pain, and dirty potty are tangible. I feel them. I see them. I desire nothing more than to conquer the work that comes with them all, and that’s the problem. Too often, I’m a Martha, not a Mary. I focus on the house cleaning, the serving, the everything that nags at my feeble body to cease being feeble and get hopping … and I forget to focus on the One who is with me, who wants the best for me, who has provided every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1), even though I deserve damnation.
Losing spiritual focus is what actually rocks my world. It’s not the pain or the stress of getting things checked off my list. It’s me, not giving priority to a Savior who wants nothing more than to relate to and with me. I do things in my own strength, rather than draw from His strength … and that robs me of joy and contentment.
Persecuted Christians are a rebuke to me. They sit in captivity, in prison cells no larger than a cubby hole with no restroom, no heat or AC, and plenty of beatings and other unspeakable methods of torture, and yet they express such joy in Jesus. Why can’t I do the same when my circumstances are infinitely better than theirs?
It’s all in the focus. And not just the focus, but the truth of who He is. It matters how we view of God. If we perceive Him to be solely justice, judgment, and wrath, how likely are we to fix our eyes on Him? If we view Him as a loving, kind, gracious fortress, shield, protector, guide, and literal Savior from the wrath we deserve, then that draws us to Him willingly.
And so, as I close, I just want to confess that if I ever get past what was hammered into my head as a child, that God is not merciful, kind, or loving, but rather full of wrath and hatred for me, it will be a miracle. Sometimes I make progress. Sometimes I fall. It’s one step forward, three steps back. Then it’s three steps forward and one step back. But I do believe in miracles, and I believe God is working in me, even as I limp along in life, literally and figuratively. He’s using all of my circumstances to train me into trusting Him, and taking Him at His Word when He says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus …” (Rom. 8:1)
The judgment and wrath of God are real. But for the Christian, that wrath is satisfied. For those in Christ, there is no more condemnation. None, zip, nada! I deserve damnation, yes. But Christ has taken my place. He died for me. And I am no longer God’s enemy, I am His friend.
Indeed, He uses pain to remind me of these truths, and to cause me to look up. When I was painting the deck today, I was attempting to cover the underneath portion of the hand rail. Sitting on the floor of the deck, I’d wet my brush, look up, and try to paint the unpainted spots, but the sun blinded me. I couldn’t see which spots needed painting and which spots had already been covered. In essence, I couldn’t see the problem anymore. The light literally blinded me. All the bad spots disappeared from my view, and nothing but blue sky and sunshine caught my eye.
Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world. And I believe that though we suffer, struggle, sin, we can ultimately live in joy and contentment if we are focused on that Light, capital L. The Light of the world is, to those who have trusted Him, the ultimate source of joy and contentment. Frankly, this world stinks. I don’t love living here. But what gets me through, what gives me joy and causes me to be content is when I can look realistically at the here and now problems and remind myself that this is not forever. The pain ends. The valleys won’t always suck me in or even exist, all because Christ came, died, and rose again … because He loves me.
The way to contentment and joy is an easy concept, but not an easy discipline. It takes time, practice, and patience to cultivate, but it can happen if we do the hard task of simply looking up. Straight into the Light. Come what may.