By Kathy Schiffer
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.
—1 Timothy 6:6-8
I read Robert Wicks’ Streams of Contentment with a sense of déjà vu.
Years ago—so many years, I’d hate to count—my friend and I were bumping and bouncing along a dusty country road, motoring toward his grandfather’s tobacco farm. This would be my first visit to Ripley, Ohio, but I’d heard so often about “the farm” and the beloved family who still worked the 67 acres, growing a bumper crop of tobacco but also pole beans and potatoes, turnips and peas. The pond yielded a fresh catch of panfish and the occasional snapping turtle. The fertile earth gave them gifts of her own, as well—puffball mushrooms, and persimmons from the tree at the back door. Life was different there: meals were simple but satisfying; conversations were brief, but love abounded in that rustic kitchen. The farm was where memories were carved in tree trunks and etched on our hearts.
The man who would later become my husband had grown up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan; but his stories of summers at the farm—of his grandfather’s stalwart values, his uncles’ good-natured ribbing—always brought a smile. Harvesting tobacco, repairing the tractor, those were the men’s jobs; and picking beans, gathering eggs and cooking, cooking, cooking—those were the women’s contributions to family life.
On that first visit to the farm, I learned to appreciate the skill required to hang the burley tobacco leaves on lathes to dry, and to open or close the cladding boards just the right amount to ensure that the tobacco cured slowly. I was captivated by a wooly caterpillar, by a snake in the woods, by dragonflies and songbirds and unfamiliar spiders. Everywhere there were new things, just waiting to be discovered by a clumsy city girl.
Robert Wicks’ saga of growing up, splitting his time between New York City winters and summers in the Catskills, took me back to that earlier time in my own life. Wicks understood, in a way that may escape those who have lived all their days in the bustle of the city, that the experience of nature up close is life-giving, that it elicits from the human spirit a spark of primal wisdom.
Streams of Contentment is a book full of smiles—or at least, that was my experience. Wicks’ heartwarming tales of the farm blend easily with his stories about encounters with patients and colleagues in his professional practice, and all have lessons to tell. Appreciation, Gratitude, Hope, Self-Respect: Wicks’ life lessons are stones dropped into the pond of human experience, concentric circles of self-disclosure. Be content where you are, with what you have, with the life God has given you. Surely these lessons can be learned under the glare of city lights; but big ideas seem to sprout more easily in the country.
“That’s great!” you say. “But I have a job, a mortgage, a family—and I don’t live in the country!” And so here’s the next best thing: Wicks invites you to take a thirty-day “country retreat” wherever you live, in just five minutes a day. Building on his ideas of clarity, contentment and compassion, he encourages the reader to reflect on an issue early in the day, then return to it again and again as the hours pass, finally reviewing it before going to bed. Does this work? Wicks replies in the affirmative, citing a familiar passage from William James:
Sow an action, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
As the apostle Paul said in his epistle to Timothy cited above, we brought nothing into this world, and we will leave with nothing. Paul found contentment regardless of his situation—even when in prison, he was peaceful, prayerful and content.
With Paul, Robert Wicks urges you to seek the true happiness that comes from appreciating your present situation, whatever that might be. Then, he offers tools to help you on your journey.
Visit the Patheos Book Club on Streams of Contentment to read an excerpt and a Q&A with the author.
Kathy Schiffer is the wife of a deacon and mother of three grown children, and currently works as Communications/Media Relations Coordinator for Guest House, the treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious. She lives and writes in Southfield, MI, and blogs at Seasons of Grace.