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.
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.
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?
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.
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.