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Posts Tagged ‘contentment’

Jo 17Sometimes we need a gentle reminder of what life is all about, don’t we? I know I can become so focussed on what I am doing from week to week that I can easily forget the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is important because it helps me sort out my priorities in the best possible way and reminds me why I am doing what I am doing in my life. In short, it shows me my life from God’s perspective—and that always gives me much food for thought.

Last week held one of those big picture moments for me. One day, I decided to drive up to the Blue Mountains to see my lovely, older friend Joy, who is now in a nursing home. I crept into the room she shares with another older lady and found both of them sound asleep. So what to do? I did not want to wake my friend and perhaps disorientate her, so I decided to sit and wait—and reflect.

It was peaceful in that room. At one stage, a kind staff member came in and we chatted for a few moments, but apart from that, all was quiet, except for my friend’s gentle breathing and that of the other occupant. Joy looked so small and fragile and somehow defenceless as she lay there, yet she also seemed at peace. Around her in the room, her beautiful family had placed photos of themselves and pictures of the flowers Joy loves, as well as other items she can enjoy touching or looking at. As I sat there, I remembered how much she had enriched my life and the lives of so many others too, over the years. And that is the sort of richness that really counts, isn’t it—the richness of drawing others into a closer connection with God, of passing on the utterly gracious, forgiving love of God to others?

I know that, when the time comes, Joy will be filled with delight that she is finally in God’s presence, just as I believe God will be to welcome her home. She does not have great earthly riches, but her soul is so rich in God—and that richness has been shared with so many others along the way.

That very morning before leaving home, I read the following:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendour of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendour will not descend with him. Psalm 49:16-17

… But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

My friend Joy, and all of us, came into the world as defenceless, little babies, bringing nothing with us except ourselves. And all of us, including Joy, will leave this world equally defenceless, through age or illness or injury, taking nothing with us except ourselves. How important it is then for us to be rich in the things of God, to know deep within ourselves that we are God’s beloved children and to be content with loving and serving God and others! That indeed is ‘great gain’—the only sort of gain that really matters, when all is said and done.

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These days, I get to do quite a lot of bookselling. Soon after my first novel was published, I discovered that authors not only have to write their books, but they also have to be reasonably adept at marketing them. Publishers can do a certain amount – but most authors have to play their part too. So I had to learn a lot very quickly – and in the process, discovered I had to guard my heart closely. I still do.

You see, I think we can easily get sidetracked in this world and lose sight of our original goals. In the pressure to succeed, our priorities can become a little skewed and we can begin to take on a kind of striving spirit that only leads to frustration and discontent. From the very beginning, my main priority in writing my novels has been to draw my readers closer to God as they relate to my characters and are carried along by their story. That is still true – but I also see the danger of becoming more focussed on the success of my novels as an end in itself. How many copies of my latest novel have I sold, I wonder? Is it doing better than the previous one? Are they all in stock in my local Christian bookstore? What other ways can I promote my novels?  Should I explore more avenues for speaking engagements? And so it goes on.

Of course it’s important to try to ensure I reach as many people as possible with my novels for the sake of drawing them closer to God. But it’s so easy to lapse into self-interest, to have much less pure motives, to want to be the ‘successful’ author over and above the kind of author God wants me to be. That may, by God’s grace, include the ‘success’ – but then again, it may not. And if it doesn’t, then am I content simply to do my best and to keep on persevering in the hope that my books and my speaking will make some sort of difference for God in this world?

Recently I read some challenging words written by Paul to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. … For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Tim 6:6-10)

Paul is writing about financial gain – something most authors I have met don’t experience too often! But wanting to gain success for its own sake, wanting to see one’s name on that book cover at all costs – wanting, if you like, the fame, if not the fortune – is something I know I need to guard against. Paul then continues:

But you, man (woman!) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

That’s what I want to do. I want to keep it all in perspective and pursue the right sort of gain in my life and through my books. I want to be like my son in this regard, who, having recently been given a pay rise, was sharing with me how he could probably now afford some long overdue home renovations. Yet he doesn’t really care what sort of house he lives in, he told me – it’s okay by him if it looks a bit old and worn. I like his attitude – I think it has something at least of that godliness with contentment about it that Paul mentions.

But how about you? What gains in life are important to you? Where is your focus right now?

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We have quite a large back garden, spread over two levels and sloping down towards a creek. I love gardening, but rarely get time to do it. On the other hand, my husband hates it! He is prepared to do any heavy work involved, such as mowing, lifting bins of rubbish etc, but has some difficulty at times telling a weed from a ‘real plant’. The difference is that I grew up with a father who was an avid gardener and worked very hard at it, so that my sister and I often got to watch him and imbibe knowledge that way. My husband, on the other hand, definitely did not.

So what’s to be done? We could put more time and effort into gardening – but then I would get even less writing done than I do now. We could let the weeds hold sway – but I find it very difficult to look at a messy garden day in and day out. Or we could bite the bullet and move into a villa or unit with no garden at all to maintain. All these are quite drastic measures, however. Is there some ‘happy medium’ we could find instead?

I think I discovered the best ‘take’ on gardening, and weeding in particular, during a recent phone conversation with an older friend who lives in the Blue Mountains. She has a very large garden, but she is almost eighty years old and is a little beyond keeping it all tidy. Yet she seemed far from depressed as she described its messy state to me.

‘Oh well … I’m having a wonderful time right now watching all the weeds rejoice! They’re so happy no one is bothering them! The vegetables have gone to seed but then that’s good – we can use the seed another season. And it’s all very colourful – there is always something to look at.’

‘Watching all the weeds rejoice’ … I hadn’t thought of it that way exactly! It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We can choose either to see all the negatives of a situation and dwell on those, or instead focus on the positives and see God at work even in the ‘weeds’ of our lives. And it’s a matter of acceptance as well, I believe. My friend can’t do all that much about the weeds – so she sees them in a positive light, each one enjoying the warmer spring weather, breathing in the clean mountain air and almost defiantly rejoicing in their ‘moment in the sun’ while not being interfered with in any way.

And my friend displays more than a little sense of humour about the situation too – again such a vital ingredient in moving through life in a calm, unruffled way. She is at peace with herself, with God and with the world, including nature. She is determined not to let the weeds rob her of enjoying her garden and even sees in them a unique kind of beauty.

So I continue to learn from my wise friend. She teaches me, along with Paul, to say:

I have learnt to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … (Phil 4:11-12)

May you too learn to watch your weeds rejoice with acceptance, peace and contentment!

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