Do your expectations “set you up” for failure and keep you from thriving in any situation or do they propel you forward, ready to conquer any obstacle? I know in our family, our plumbline for contentment has, at times, erroneously been whether or not we have enough money for what we deem we need for happiness. Oh, what a fickle bar of measurement! Oh, what misery we run into when things happen to move that plumbline beyond the reach of our vision on the walls of our dissipated lives!
How Content Are You?
What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning? This question was posed to me some years ago and really exposed how much my life was controlled by the cares of this world! I would wake up every day and immediately sort through the many files in my brain (think - ‘open tabs’ on a computer) and fall into a pit of worry and striving. A definite slough of despond! (For any of you who have read Pilgrim’s Progress, you’ll recognize this as the place where all those d-words propagate:...despair, darkness, doubt, depression, etc.) Then I’d want to chatter about it all to my half-sleeping husband who then was carried, half-cognizant, right into the slough with me unawares! How selfish of me...
Is Having It All - Really What’s Important?
I love my country and am so grateful for the privilege to have lived here in the most amazing republic ever to be established on earth. But Western culture can be a set-up. We’re born to expect things to go our way, turn out great all the time and be prosperous and “fat”. The American Dream is fading, but it still is woven into the fabric of this nation. We have labor unions and special interest lobbies in the halls of legislation and entitlement packages. We have our choice of where to shop for our food and other needs and wants. Most of us know an experience of regular paychecks either from our own hard labor or from the government. We buy insurance so if something unfortunate happens we get paid for it and certainly won’t have to do without. Sadly, for many, our idea of gratitude is comparing ourselves with a people less fortunate and being glad we aren’t like them...
If You Were the Richest Person in the World, What Would You Do?
I recently watched the PBS documentary on the Rockefeller family. It was so wonderful to hear more about these folks than that they had oodles of money! In fact, the senior Rockefellers were very circumspect about raising their children to be very aware of what it meant to do without things. Mrs. Rockefeller was quoted as saying something like - she was glad that she knew what her children wanted for Christmas so that she could be sure to not fulfill those desires. Whoa! From a woman who could’ve bought her children anything their little hearts desired! If you follow this story through in the life of John Jr. (pictured above with his wife and children), many years later this training in self-control and moderation enabled him to uniquely care for coal miners in a Colorado uprising, gaining their respect and admiration by his ability to live on their level and relate to them. The story actually made me cry as I considered how he was uniquely qualified for that situation because of his upbringing.
What are You Teaching Your Children?
Some years ago, I began a discipline of purposely doing without things. Well, I guess you could say my husband and I really started this as a baby step when we were first married. We made a pact to wait at least a month before any major purchase. The result? Pretty much everything we thought we needed at the beginning of the month was relegated to the ‘unnecessary’ category by the end of the month! In addition, this is a wonderful way to train your children in self-control and prepare them for reality! When you model it first, they will be much more inclined to follow your example as you train them in the art of contentment, for that is what you are doing - training yourself to be content with little, which is anathema to the American way but necessary for a survival situation.
The Divine Surprise!
Another amazing thing about this little step was that it built in us a lifelong excitement to see what God would do that we might never imagine! We’d have our hearts set on something and then, lo and behold - someone would be giving away something even better! Or we’d find something suitable at a yard sale instead. Or we’d realize our ideas were skewed and that had we gone ahead at the start, we’d be in a real pickle, because our vision had clearly been redirected. Or God would totally blindside us with something - like a home- far better than we could ever have hoped for or imagined. Oh, the stories I could tell!
Fasting - to Slow Down our Appetites
So out of that baby step, developed a bit of a hunger to be satiated with less. We began planning times of eating only vegetables for a week or 3 weeks or 40 days - however long we felt led to do. Or we’d just drink juices and broth. You wanna really adjust your perspective on food and “stuff” - this discipline of fasting will do it! For us, as Christians, we used it as a time to be less distracted from God as well. But even if you aren’t a Christian, you can benefit from walking through a time of self-denial. I was pondering about the benefits of the Great Depression coming before WWII - probably people who’d gone victoriously through the Depression were more easily able to ‘do without’ as rations were instituted and sacrifices needed during the war. Fasting doesn’t have to be food-oriented. I know some people on special diets simply can’t do such a thing. I highly recommend asking yourself the question: If I lost everything today, what convenience or object would I have the hardest time living without? Your answer would be the best thing to lay aside for a time and see how you do. When you set a time goal in this and achieve it - there is such a sense of liberty that you gain! You now know that you can survive without whatever it was you gave up and that is very comforting and empowering!
A Change of Scenery Can Change Everything!
We worked at a wilderness school for a season and one of the objectives was to get these troubled youths out of their usual environments so that they could relearn behaviors from a new and unencumbered perspective. It was the most satisfying job I ever had and I would be so full of joy to watch a young man who could not control rage, for instance, learn to process what was going on in his heart in an uncluttered environment and redirect his troubles to purposeful ends. We can all use seasons in a wilderness camp, I think, as life circumstances and stuff and things threaten to own us and paralyze us in dysfunction. Get away from it all for awhile as a matter of habit! Pack in a minimalist way - not the RV with every-comfort-of-life type of camping - but the ‘living off the land’ kind of mindset- and get away from it all!! Turn off all the gadgets (leave them at home completely if you can) and just sit in amazement as all the fog rolls away....Yes, you can do it! And I guarantee you will return to the demands of life refreshed and with new perspective and again, with the liberty and empowerment of knowing you ‘can’ leave it all behind if you have to. Doing this together as a family is an irreplaceable means of quality time for communication or just some solitude together. (Yes, that is an intentional oxymoron!)
Contentment: A Quiet Arsenal of Power
"To have what we want is riches; but to be able to do without, is power."
We will have seasons of life that buffet us. We can prepare for these seasons by training our bodies and spirits to be content with less. It’s not just an empty exercise in asceticism. It’s a supernatural paradox that leaves us more enriched than we could imagine!