Contentment Story

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment or the lack thereof.  It seems that our culture craves contentment, but gives way to discontent pretty quickly.  I, myself, recently dealt with this struggle.  Here’s the story.

At the National Board Certification Banquet: Please say all that work was not just for this classy plaque.

Day 1: The News

J comes home and tells me that it is pretty likely his National Board Certification supplemental pay will be cut next year.  Three years ago NC teachers salaries were frozen.  However, teachers who have National Board Certification receive a supplemental pay increase based on the credential.  In light of that fact and the arrival of our surprise family addition Anika, he worked his tail off to get this certification.  Most teachers do not achieve this certification on the first attempt, but J did. It was a HUGE and timely blessing.  The loss of this money will be a big deal. We respond by trying not to think about it. We can be content, right? Denial is the same as contentment, right?

Day 2: Research

With the media ramping up coverage of the drama about WI teachers’ pay cuts, we start researching how our state compares.  Of course, NC teachers make far less than the WI teachers, but that is hardly the issue for the NC press coverage that just likes to emphasize how teachers get summers off.  Without more tax revenue (anyone, anyone?), teachers’ pay, the main expense of state governments, has to be cut.  Since J is a music teacher, his job has been on the chopping block several times before. In fact, in 2002, his position was cut entirely and he had to get a job in a different county. Given the option between a pay cut and a lost job, we can FORCE ourselves to be content with the pay cut. Wait. If you say “Force ourselves to be content,” I’m pretty sure that is actually not contentment. That is resignation.

Day 3-7 Whining and Throwing “the Man” Under the Bus

I begin to tell everyone I know about this terrible impending possibility. Of course, the government officials (losers and under-valuers of education) are to blame first. Secondly, (sorry entire family) I blame all uber-conservative Republicans who refuse to let their property be taxed to astronomical proportions. I can see the argument, but mamma’s gotta eat.  Thirdly, um let’s see, the system. Fourthly, THE MAN, whoever he is.   In my diatribe, I stress as often as possible how we will be reduced to poverty and will be eligible for government aid, which is a true and hilariously bitter irony. My clincher is the fact that not one job, known to me, that requires a four year college degree would pay an individual with 13 years experience so little money. Okay, I concede, maybe missions.  (In my diatribe, I tell the amount for dramatic emphasis. Look it up online if you are curious.) Contentment has been replaced with righteous indignation. Moreover, I am hoping to make lots of other people feel indignant on my behalf.  Or they just feel awkwardly guilty and look around for an escape from this tense conversation.

The morning she was released feeling MUCH better.

Day 8: Hospital

In the midst of our escalating worry, Addie is sick. I take her to the doctor after several days of fever, coughing and vomiting. She just seems very lethargic. He immediately sends us to the ER where she is admitted overnight for severe dehydration. I barely wince as I put the $250 ER copay on the credit card. Contentment has been replaced by survival mode.

Day 9: Home

In ONE day, our family and friends provided us with meals, prayers, help, babysitting and encouragement. Addie is much improved after great care at the hospital. Contentment doesn’t have a financial component today.

Day 10: Worry

Before I can think, “Will I be able to pay that hospital bill?”, we get our tax return. Yipee. I also get a whopping mental nudge to hurry up with my Save to Give Match for Jan and Feb, so I get right on that. This stewardship thing is a two way street I recall.  Also, I recall that contentment is a two way street. I must chose it. Or I must ask for it. Or . . . how I am suppose to get the ever elusive contentment?

Um . . . do I need a reason to include this adorable photo? Hmm . . "Content with a Cookie." How is that?

Day 11: Perfect Peace

I guess that brings us to about now. I’ve made this story a bit more linear than it really was. I can only wish that the day labeled “Worry” was really in the past to stay.  I’m sure it isn’t.  What has struck me lately was that, in spite of all my declarations as a blogger and person about being “Simplified . . .Satisfied” or whatever, contentment wasn’t mine for the taking when the going got rough.  Being content with a simple life really comes down to a choice more than a state of being.  After we got “The News,” somewhere in my head and heart, I made a choice to be discontent, to be unhappy, to worry, and to be fearful. Rather than trusting what I KNOW unequivocally to be true in my experience, that GOD always comes through, that He will provide, that we will have enough, that we are and will be fine, I was wallowing around in a healthy dose of “woe is me” and an overdose of “everyone else is better off than me.”

Some of you may know that I taught a budget class early this year during which the Lord really struck me with the passage Isaiah 26:3-4, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, He is the Rock Eternal.” There is just SO much in that statement that I could elaborate on the sheer AWESOMENESS of, but perfect peace. . . . I mean . . . PERFECT PEACE!

That is what I want. I want PERFECT PEACE. I don’t want happiness. I don’t want resignation. Even satisfaction sounds pretty lame and “settled” by contrast.

Now, let me be clear. I am under no illusions that trusting in God will mean that teachers’ pay won’t be cut, or that J will keep his job, or that we will be financially secure.  To be quite honest, I think God will enthusiastically unsettle any security that might tempt me to trust it instead of him, the ROCK ETERNAL. I think for many of us, our ROCK ETERNAL, is not always God. (Bank of Granite, anyone?) This passage doesn’t promise financial peace or security. It just . . .if I dare say just . . .promises p-e-r-f-e-c-t peace, which isn’t a commodity.  It promises a peace that passes all understanding and defies quantification.

Contented kids building TP Towers

So, I’m doing some thinking about contentment these days. And I’m trying to figure out how to truly embrace that perfect peace in the midst of cut salaries, whining kids, diaper changes, trips to the ER, floors that don’t stay clean, kids that don’t stay healthy, and a heart that keeps wanting to whine and worry. I might need to be on this topic for a while.

What do you think? What makes you discontent? Content? How have you moved from one to the other? Comment or message me your story.

9 Responses to Contentment Story

  1. Laura March 22, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    L-O-V-E this post. Will write more when less choked up.

  2. Anita March 22, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    well, I’m dealing with much of the same, except that my kids for the moment are healthy. Today… dishwasher is leaking all over the kitchen floor, bread machine- not working, oven- not working, light in bathroom- not working AGAIN. Daughter extremely argumentative… and well, people who don’t keep their commitments, that’s all I will say about that….
    I am having a hard time ‘keeping it together’ in the attitude department…

  3. Lisa P March 22, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    Thank you for this post. I really needed to hear this this morning :)

  4. Dad March 22, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Girl you’ve knocked it out of the park once again with the Contentment one … why do I have to read them on MOM’S email? I guess I’ll sign up for my very own subscription  Uber-republican that I am, I’m praying that education budget line items for expenditures on your road will swell!

  5. Jason Smith March 22, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Great post. It is great how you look for God’s lessons in all that you go through in life. I like how you describe contentment as a choice. I’ve had a hard time learning the free will that God gave us. Over the past couple of years I’ve had to deal with some fear. Since fear is a feeling, it doesn’t seem like something you can choose. It just seems like a response to other choices, yours or someone else’s. I assume trusting in God would be the opposite feeling of fear. However, they are both choices that we have to make. God says “fear not” indicating it is a choice that we have to choose against. He also tells us to trust Him as yet another choice. Man, this free will thing is hard. Anyway, I have to go re-evaluate my whole belief system since I am a conservative and I feel guilty now.

    • thelowryder March 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      J. Smith-(Sorry, this is what I have to call you in my brain.) Everything that you brought up is amazingly in sync with some stuff I’ve been learning about in a Bible study. I may even just do a subsequent post on it, but the gist of it is this (My paraphrase from what I’ve learned in the Beth Moore Esther study). Basically she points out that “Fear Not” is the most frequent command given in the Bible. Interestingly, the reasoning given is not that there is nothing scary out there. God is not invalidating our fear when he says this. God says, “Fear Not” but then he says WHY we shouldn’t be afraid even in spite of the acknowledged scariness: “I am with you.” Unlike when we comfort our kids by saying, “There are no monsters in the closet” in an attempt to placate or minimize their fears, God understands, anticipates, and recognizes that we will be feeling fear. And yet, He knows that the antidote, the balm, the protection is present in Him. When Addie had to get the IV in the ER, she was TOTALLY freaked out and struggling against me. Of course, I didn’t say “It’s not going to hurt” or “You are overreacting.” I did say, “It’s okay Honey. I’m right here.” SO . . . . to that end, when our instinct is fear, the reason we have an option to “Fear Not” is because He is with us. My reaction is to want to stay very close to Him because, I can infer by extension that, those who have not chosen to be near him have reason to fearful. I want to shout out, “FEAR MUCH! He ain’t with you honey!” Anyway, I guess my current understanding is that anxiety, worry, fear, discontent, etc. are the natural emotional result of not giving up enough control of our lives and trusting him, not being close to Him in fearful times. Paul talks about Christ’s strength being made perfect in our weakness. Like you, I certainly agree that not fearing and trusting God are both choices, AND I think they are connected. I don’t think we can chose to FEAR NOT and successfully acheive it, unless we also chose to trust Him. He’s not promising that fearful situations won’t continue to present themselves, He is just guaranteeing that He will not leave us alone. Long ramble . . . will copy and paste for next blog post. :)

  6. Sandy March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    You have worked through a difficult issue – contentment – at a very young age. It took me many more years to reach the conclusion that GOD is enough! Godliness with contentment is great gain (I Tim. 6:6) really sums it all up. If we don’t realize that HE is all we need, no matter how much we have, it will never be enough.

    I love reading your blog – it makes me laugh and cry at the same time – you have a wonderful way with words – you should consider writing a book – I know it would be a bestseller!

  7. Erin March 22, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Wow! you never fail us readers… another great post, and so true. For me it is hard to “see” clearly through the clutter of day to day life. I think if I could “see” then the ability to feel content might be easier. maybe? Not sure, so right now I am just gonna drink my chocolate milk, cause I gave up diet coke. (that is a bad choice by the way, never give up diet coke, its one of life’s simple joys.) love ya chica! your blog rocks!

  8. Shelly @ Coupon Teacher March 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    I wrote about being happy with what I have this week too. But being a NBCT myself, it is scary to think of losing that money. Once you have become accustomed to having it, it is hard to think about not having that extra each month.