Waffling on Contentment
It happened again. There I was, cheerfully flipping through my new cookbook. You know, the one that does not really exist? The one that claims to be full of recipes that you can make using local ingredients because its contributors are women who served in the same area? Unfortunately, they must have gone home and forgotten where they were, because I came across ‘Amish Waffles.’ My first optimistic thought was that it must be a recipe that did not require a waffle iron because a) they are Amish, and b) the electricity here is hardly what you could call consistent or reliable. No, there it was, in black and white: “pour into waffle iron.” Then it struck me. There are global workers here who have big-compound generators that are turned on for them at regular times each morning and evening so they can actually have a waffle iron AND count on using it for breakfast if they want to! If I lived on a compound with a big generator, I could have waffles for breakfast whenever I wanted too.
And there I was. Discontent. Suddenly, the whole reason I had not yet found complete joy on earth was because of my small generator and my lack of waffles. Here is the thing (as my husband will readily remind me): I have struggled with discontent my whole life. It is not a sin unique to the mission field for me, but it does seem more glaring here. As long as I can remember, I have always thought If only…, then I would finally be happy.
You might be wondering if it is even Christian to make happiness such a focus. We are not Buddhists. Thankfully, God does not command us to suppress our desire for pleasure, but rather to find our pleasure in Him. In Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says it well, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
However, I do not always see God Himself as my greatest joy. I tend to aim for something more tangible, to think my happiness can be found in deep freezers and washing machines and tiled floors. Honestly, if I am longing for God, will a deep freezer or a washing machine really make even the tiniest dent in my longing? But that is what I do.
Thankfully, God is a merciful Father who reminds me, whenever this thought that something can make me happy has crept up: Remember what you said about the living room furniture, Heidi?
Yes, Lord, I do remember thinking: If I can just replace this ancient, dust-filled, rat-infested (yes, that is precisely true), gaudy, burgundy-floral-printed furniture, I will be happy. Then I can keep living here in joyful obedience to God.
Even after I got the new furniture, I still managed to say, If only…, then I would be happy. I have some idea how great the holiday at the sea would be, but I forget where to find it, so I am hoping my mud pies will bring some temporary pleasure.
I love the George Herbert poem The Pulley. In the poem, God has a glass of blessings that He is pouring out on men.
…When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all His treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.
For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore his gifts in stead of Me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature.
So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.
Contentment is a kind of rest. We were not meant to find it in the things of this earth, but rather in the God of this earth, who is much more fulfilling than tiled floors.
It is not always home improvement items that distract me from a better pursuit. Sometimes I think going home would make me most happy. I do know God called me here, and I really want to have the right perspective and make the most of this season. I started re-reading Life as a Vapor by John Piper, and every chapter has convicted me. Piper says that when he looks at all the atrocities and suffering in the world “it makes [him] tremble at the prospect of living a trivial, self-serving, comfortable, middle-class, ordinary, untroubled American life.” I wish I did not want to live that life, but from here it looks pretty good. And if I am not living that life but am longing for it in the back of my mind, am I really doing anything more God-honoring? I want to really value the eternal rewards of serving God on this mission field more than I value the earthly rewards of a comfortable life.
Piper also talks about Matthew 6:19-24, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light… The eye is our way of looking at the world. Do we see heaven-reward or earth-reward as more valuable? Do we value God more than money? My eye is often bad, which makes my path dark. It is strange—it is not like I have blinding amounts of money. What global worker does? Technically, it is not even money that I love, but I often long for the things and the comforts that money can buy (like plane tickets home). I have moments where I convince myself that if only I lived near my family, if only I could occasionally go to a bookstore and just sit in a nice chair with an expensive coffee drink, or if only I could eat a Big Mac® every now and again, then I would not feel so discontent—except that I know it is a lie.
My mother-in-law once gave me an analogy for sins that we find ourselves experiencing again and again. They are sort of like a line drawn down a Slinky. If you stretch the Slinky, you will still keep coming across the line as you spiral along, but it might be longer and longer intervals between those crossings. I suspect that contentment is one of the lines on my Slinky. I am encouraged that God is stretching the Slinky so that I can go longer and longer periods of time without revisiting it. He graciously gives me conversations with friends, good books, and analogies from my marriage and my parenting that help me to grow in this area of finding my ‘rest’ in the God of Nature, rather than in Nature (not that Big Macs® are very natural, but you know what I mean).
One reason I have wanted to be a global worker since I was eleven is that I suspected that global worker life gave one the opportunity to learn God’s lessons in a condensed way, with the pressure turned up so that more could be fit into this short vapor of a life. So far, I am grateful that that seems to be true for me. In America, there are many baser pleasures readily available which keep me from seeking the highest pleasure. Here, I am forced to go without those things, which makes me want them and then question why I want them. With God’s help, I will keep returning to the truth that lasting contentment can only be found in God Himself.