As the sun sets over our isolated African village, I am preparing dinner by candlelight. The generator is broken again so there will be no power this evening. Supper is meager, neither the market nor the garden yielded much today. My daughter is crying to be picked up and I am waiting for my husband to finish with the fourth caller at our door this hour. I miss my mother.
These small inconveniences often depress me but tonight, I am grateful. Through these and other circumstances I am learning “the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:12b-13 NIV). Yet it is not my own circumstances which are my greatest instructors here. The people are my teachers, specifically one small girl and one young mother.
Contentment personified is a little girl named Agnes. Agnes has the face of an angel and the wispy body of a barefoot, ragged little girl. Her smile is beatific and infinite. Her actions mirror a soul that is at peace; she prays eagerly, she genuinely cares for others and openly displays affection (a rare sight here). I have watched her sharing her meager food ration, playing or leading children in singing. There is an ever present cheerfulness which belies feelings of discontent with her situation. Today she was limping on an infected foot but there was no complaining.
Contentment lies etched also in the mature lines of Sara’s face. Raised in the destitution of rural West Africa by a blind father, Sara is now the mother of three small children. She and her husband have almost nothing, even by the lowest North American standards. Yet, she expresses gratitude with sincerity. Grace governs her behavior. Peace radiates from a smile the likes of which has inspired great works of art. It speaks of an inner joy which transcends the physical poverty of her daily life.
These two people, a child and a woman, know, as I do not, what it is to be in need. They know, as I do not, the pangs of chronic hunger, of constant physical deprivation. I have known only milliseconds of delayed gratification by comparison. From where does their contentment derive? Not from what they have, but from what they do not have. The need draws them to God and His peace. They have learned the hardest part of the secret – being content while “hungry and living in…want.”
“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” I can be content in this situation without the things I think I need. The secret is out.
View the original print magazine where this article was first published.