Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reclaiming Your Life Through Eyes of Contentment

by Danetta Kellar

Clutter makes me stress out. If I open a cabinet and things fall out, it is time to simplify. If I cannot walk through the garage without tripping on someone’s shoes, maybe we have too many pairs. 

If I react defensively when someone asks sweetly to get together for coffee, maybe I need to get rid of something less necessary than friendship in my calendar. 

Too much, right now, don’t wait, just get a new one, get it done. These are all phrases that drive our culture and our lives to madness. And health problems. And hurting marriages. And cold friendships. And doors closed to hospitality instead of open wide with room for people. 

We are a cluttered society with more possessions, commitments, and obligations on our hands than we know how to manage.

There has got to be a way out of this.

Not everyone gets the opportunity to sell or give away most of their belongings and move to Africa like my husband and I did. But we did just that, and my children have heard the story of The Two Trunks and the Mud Hut until they probably think they were there. (They were not; they had not been born yet).  

Before we left, we packed up the wedding gifts and put them in storage with family. Then, with a pen, tape, and little yellow tags, went through our small apartment and priced everything. Friends and acquaintances walked through that space I had so carefully decorated as a new bride and carried away my American life. 

Limited to two trunks (one each), we labored over what was most important  to make the long journey to our new life. The china teapot went. The pictures of our parents. A good set of knives and a good frying pan. My favorite worn copy of Pride and Predjudice. Shoes that would last, and the new technology called a laptop. Frank Sinatra CDs in case we could not leave the village to dance and celebrate our wedding anniversary.

The irony is that once we arrived in our little village, we still had so much more than our neighbors. I soon forgot the former importance of my designer boots and settled in to flip flops and a simple wrap skirt. The people were so beautiful that I forgot about my own quest for beauty and all the Things required to attain it. Life was uncluttered. 

One would think I had achieved contentment.

Back to reality.

Before you admire my selfless heart, let me disclose that I would lie in bed at night and actually dream about the mall back in the US. I would wake up after a dreamy shopping spree and remember where I was. A place where there were no stores, and in the city where there were, they did not have the things I longed for. 

My uncluttered life was in many ways geographical. My heart had not really changed; it still longed for earthly treasures, and my subconscious dream self called me out. I had a divided heart. 

Regardless of the divided heart we all possess, and the tension between really, truly, wanting to want the right things, and really, truly wanting Things, God asks us to be content. 

My years in Africa certainly gave me the disciplined opportunity to practice contentment in the absence of so much excess. But, the old adage may not be so true after all, for practice did not make the attainment of contentment perfect in me.

In my mind, our years away from the clamor make our acquisition of clutter and discontent in recent years even more unacceptable. We know better. We have lived simply and observed firsthand the lack among the poor. 

I still remember crying in the London-Heathrow Airport on my way back from Kenya at the cost of gloves, which I needed. They cost roughly $8.00, exactly the cost for a new roof for my friend Fatuma’s rain-soaked house. I felt ashamed to buy something for myself casually when that amount of money was so dear and necessary back in the village.

But I am not in Africa anymore; I am here in America. And the speed with which I adapted to my consumer culture again took my breath away. It reminds me that my natural inclination is toward flabby discontent, rather than the leanness of simple living and simple gratitude for what I have.

This past year we packed our house and prepared to move. After donating more than twenty bags of items, making multiple trips to Habitat for Humanity with odds and ends, I packed the rest in our attic and garage in anticipation of selling our home. We were ready for more space.

After it became clear that our house was not selling, we began to re-evaluate our life philosophy. What had happened? 

When did we begin to think we really needed more space in order to give our children a more content childhood? 

When did we begin to believe that hospitality is best when one’s guest has their own bedroom and bathroom rather than the cozy chaos of people piled up happily on African couches, talking in pajamas until the wee hours or sipping strong coffee before the kids wake up? 

When did we reach the point that we had so many belongings I became constantly irritable trying to manage them all? 

Is having one’s own bedroom a right of all children; will their characters be destroyed by rooming with a sibling?

What happened to the young couple from the story of the Two Trunks and a Mud Hut?

We took these questions and our tumultuous hearts to the Lord and asked for Him to show us what we could not see. We got on our knees together and began to seek God in a new way. 

We realized that our eyes had become focused on many wonderful and even admirable things, but less and less on God Himself. Our excuses for the Pursuit of More had all sounded justified, even spiritual. Although our intentions were good, we were off track, and our clutter, both physical and otherwise, had crowded out our fellowship with Christ.

Most importantly, we gave Him back all we have, and returned to the posture of stewards, not owners and collectors.

He showed us that regardless of our physical home, our physical belongings, the amount in our bank account, the number of activities in which we are involved, the number of bedrooms we have, we are to obey Jesus’ teaching. And He taught to give it all. And He promises that when we do that, He and the Father will make their home with us. (See John 14:23) 

Surely that is the heart of contentment. Jesus and the Father making their home with us.

  • Contentment is not really about the amount of stuff we have after all. It is about obeying Jesus with all that we have. Giving it all to Him. He is the owner. I am the steward.

  • Contentment makes me create cozy spaces in my house in anticipation of chats over a warm cup of tea instead of worrying about whether the decor looks modern enough to feature in a magazine.

  • Contentment enables me to invite a friend in for mutual encouragement even while my cleaning supplies are sitting in a bucket on the floor, the counter is sticky, and the entire family’s shoes are strewn across the entryway.

  • Contentment calms my heart when the car breaks down and I remember it came from Him first and He will take care of my transportation.

  • Contentment clears my mind when the holiday magazines start piling up in my mailbox with all that glitters, tempting me with so many lovely things. It guides my yes and my no and makes them guilt-free.

  • Contentment is satisfying deep in my soul.

I still remember the beautiful spring day sitting on the green lawn of our college when my mentor looked at me and said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, Danetta. But I am afraid it is going to take you many years to realize that.” I could not even understand at the time what he saw in me to make him say that. Yes, we can be that blind to our own selves.

I spent hours, days, and months that turned into years thinking again and again of his words, wrestling with discontentment regardless the continent or culture in which I lived. The more I tried to prove him wrong, strived to grasp contentment through my careful calculations and efforts, the more it eluded me. Like the fox we often see on our pre-dawn runs, contentment played with my eyesight, darting in and out of the trees, leaving me wondering if it was really real.

It has been a long time since that conversation. But I think I am finally realizing what my mentor meant that day. I can see contentment now. It is no longer the elusive fox.

I know contentment is real, and I found it when I gave everything back to God. 

I sat back, empty-armed, and rested for the first time in a very long time. Maybe ever. 

And slowly, bit by bit, He is placing treasures in my arms again. But they are His own, not for me to own, but for me to steward for Him. And I am excited about the chapter ahead. To be given treasures belonging to the King to steward for Him? What greater privilege and honor is there???? 

His house. Not mine. His car. Not mine. His time. Not mine. His children, his family, his friendships, His resources. Use me Lord, make me a good manager. Change my bent toward hoarding treasures for myself.

No more wrestling. No more striving. No more pressure. Just gratitude and service, anticipation and worship. Surely this is what contentment feels like. At least to this exhausted former Owner of Everything. I highly recommend exchanging your ownership for His.

What secret to contentment have you discovered in your life? Share it in the comments section below.


Is contentment possible? (Click to Tweet)

We can find contentment when we give everything back to God. (Click to Tweet)

God is the owner; we are the stewards. #contentment (Click to Tweet)

No comments:

Post a Comment