A sermon was playing while I washed the dishes one evening. The well-traveled preacher compared the life that is enjoyed by most in the USA with the life that is to be found in much of the rest of the world. He said slowly, “America is like Disneyland.”
At that comment I stopped rinsing the dish in my hands, for the Holy Spirit had smitten me. “See,” the quiet voice spoke, “you only go to Disneyland on vacation—you don’t live there.” I had to pause to think about that and realized that I really needed that rebuke. Until then I had not realized how much I had felt entitled to the US-style life that gives many comforts and close family relationships. Without knowing it, dissatisfaction had affected the way I viewed my life as a missionary in Nepal.
Ah-ha! I mused. That is it. I have not been truly content with my life because part of me thinks that what I have is not enough. Even though I know I am not going to live that kind of life, I still think that I deserve better. I had not even realized I felt that way. Something had not been right in my heart, but I had never been sure exactly what the problem was. Now the Lord had shown me what it was: I lacked contentment.
Well, I had already learned to be content with one thing, though: our house. That had taken some time. We took a plain, simple house in order to make it easier for the Nepali people to relate to us, and to remove the highly-potential hindrance of “looking rich.” The house is a little dingy, though, and it has bugs that fly out of different holes every May. The plumbing is not so good, and neither is the electric, but it is not ostentatious (as so very many houses are in this city), and it has the space we need.
Regarding my perspective on the house, things came to a head for me when we returned to it after a furlough. Having again experienced a more comfortable way of life in the US, when I looked around our home I saw only how much it did not match up to my standards. Discontentment grew because I imagined that living in a lovely home was my right. “Grumpy” would have been a good word to describe how I felt about it.
Then, one morning while reading my Bible, the Lord showed me His view of my heart, the view I really needed to see. That day I recorded the following in my journal:
The full soul loatheth an honeycomb: but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet. (Proverbs 27:7)
In my perspective of what nice, lovely, and comfortable is, our house is dumpy. My “full soul” (for there are so many who would revel in such a place!) loathed this house with its dirty, smudged walls, poor paint job, dingy colors, rust, poor lighting, ugly floors…well, it is certainly evident I have noticed all I do not like.
Even so, I want to maintain an attitude of gratefulness. Not just for the things I like—the yard, the built-to-my-height kitchen counter, the cheerful butter-yellow paint in many rooms, the nicely sun-lit living room in the afternoons, and some of our furniture. I want to have an attitude of thankfulness and contentment not because I like some of the things I have but because these are the things I have.
The contentment, I learned, had to come because I understood this was what God allowed me to have, and I had to realize that I had no claim or right to better. That day I started to learn the lesson, but the Lord had something else for me as well.
A few days later I was reading in Ephesians: …And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. As I read those words, the Holy Spirit again pricked me and, as a picture of the despised, dingy walls of my home filled my mind, a small voice sounded in my heart, “And I’ve been living in that, too.”
Oh, I was so ashamed. My heart had been just like that house—dingy, dirty, ugly, full of self-pity and unkindness and bitterness—and the Holy Spirit was grieved to have to live there. I yielded my will and learned a lesson of contentment with the home we had, and today I am content in my house, even when the bugs come flying out in May.
In meditating on these thoughts in the days after listening to the “America-is-Disneyland” sermon, I understood that all the nice things and easy ways that I remember from the US are really above what I deserve. Just because someone invented a dishwasher and (I imagine) most people in America have them, does not mean that I deserve one or should feel a slight twinge of displeasure as I hand-wash my dishes. Just because there is such a thing as wall-to-wall carpeting, does not mean I am owed it. Just because there are such things as shopping carts big enough to fit four small children in them and minivans with enough space for all those children and two weeks’ worth of food, does not mean I am entitled to them.
Living in a poor country has taught me that I have a much physically-easier life than most people in the world. I knew this in my mind, but it had not reached my heart because my “full soul” loathed the harder-to-me aspect of my life. I knew in my head that I needed to be thankful for what I had, but in my heart, I only felt the loss of what I could have, if I lived elsewhere.
And then the Lord, in love and mercy to His child, gave a gentle reprimand, and peace came. I am not owed or entitled to any certain kind of life at all, and I can rest contentedly in His faithful, constant provision.
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.