Category: faith

{Welcome! I’m in the midst of a series of posts about contentment. It all started here, and I wrote about the first building block here.}

IMG_4161

Have you ever watched a toddler build with wooden blocks?  Left to her own devices, a toddler will probably start by grabbing a couple of blocks, licking them, and banging them together.  When a big person gets involved, he demonstrates this magical property blocks have: stackability! The toddler is amazed! She watches as her sibling or daddy or babysitter stacks one after another, that tower rising further and further into the air… and then she gleefully knocks it over, and starts trying to build her own tower.

Hopefully, friends, this series will work that ‘magic’ for you. Maybe you have one or two of these building blocks laying around already, and you’ve begun to see how they feel in your life. Maybe you haven’t tried stacking them up the way I did. Since you’re not a toddler, I don’t expect that you’re going to come try to kick down MY tower of blocks; but perhaps you’ll consider building your own!

Not long after those lessons in submission, God started showing me how ungrateful I could be sometimes. This wasn’t anything new in my life, I suppose I should admit. As far back as I can remember, say 10 or 11 years old, my daddy used to jokingly call me a Serpent-Toothed Child:

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth
it is to have a thankless child!”
~Shakespeare, King Lear

(You know, for years and years, I thought that was in the Bible? Turns out it’s from the Bard instead.) Nevertheless, when my lack of gratitude reared its ugly head from time to time, showing up as entitlement here and disrespect there, Dad would let me know I was being an “STC.”

Years later, when I was a sophomore in college, my mother sent me a VHS tape of “Madame Blueberry: A Lesson in Thankfulness.” If you haven’t seen it, you can watch a clip at the link, but in short: it’s the tale of a blue (sad) blueberry who is dismayed when she sees all the STUFF she doesn’t have. When she meets a child who is thankful for the simple things in life, Madame B realizes how wrong her priorities were.

My mom knew that, even at 18, I loved those singing vegetables. And she was concerned that I wasn’t always grateful for the life I led. I certainly did have so much for which to be thankful. Her care package was a gentle reminder to take my focus off my {real or imagined} “have-nots” and put my focus back where it belonged.

Gratitude is life-changing. Focus-shifting. Re-centering.

Gratitude Contentment

If you are in the midst of the hardest circumstance of your life, I know that this sounds bonkers. Giving thanks isn’t always easy and sometimes it’s downright counter-intuitive. Trust me, I know. I’ve been given lots of chances to put this one into practice. Cancer battles. Miscarriages. Scary job decisions. Relocations. Losing everything in a fire. Marital trouble. Death of a beloved family member.

So don’t imagine that I’m telling you to “find your gratitude” from inside a pink fairy bubble that floats above the rabble. I’m telling you that it’s possible to find your gratitude – from right here, beside you, with my voice  in the mess.

I’m telling you that if you take the ridiculous, crazy, leap of faith to DECLARE YOUR GRATITUDE in spite of the hubbub around you, then you will discover the deepest, most real, most concrete thankfulness you have ever experienced.

Have you ever experienced a sense of gratitude and contentment that transcended the everyday and felt positively holy?

The birth of a child.
The first declaration of love from your spouse.
The sight of an awe-inspiring view of the creation.

As breath-taking and inspiring as that can be, I’m here to bear witness to you that gratitude borne of sorrow or hardship is even more impactful.

But perhaps you’re reading this from a relatively pain-free place. No illnesses or grief stand in the way, and yet, something about this post resonates with you. Gratefulness, yes. This is what I need. My friend, I hear that too. Your challenge is to find thankfulness in the midst of the mundane.

Your average house and your average car.
Your normal children with their constant needs.
Your tedious jobs and good ol’ familiar spouse.

The temptation in front of so many of us is to allow the daily grind to rub away our sensitivity to the gift and beauty all around us. Not every moment has the grandeur of an ocean sunrise or your child’s first breath, and it’s an easy thing to fall into a trap of lacking in thanks until the Big Things Come Along. We ought to celebrate the big things, certainly – but we also ought to search for gratitude for the little moments – interactions – people – that work together to create our everyday existence.

There are so many resources to help you develop a habit of gratitude. There are books and there are pins; you could write yourself a note on your mirror or stick a Post-It on your coffeepot. You could be mindful of the ACTS acronym during your prayer time (to remember elements of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication when you talk to God). You could institute a time of Thankful Things over the dinner table, or challenge yourself to post things for which you are thankful on Facebook.

And as your gratitude habit grows, so will your sense of contentment.

This one is easier to understand, isn’t it? I know that my thoughts on submission might have sounded crazy in relation to contentment, but I have a feeling we can all agree on this one. It is HARD to feel disgruntled and discontent when you are telling your family members, every contact in your digital universe, and the King of all Creation how much you are already thankful for.

Think of gratitude as a daily vitamin. Thankfulness works as a natural prevention treatment for discontentment.  It’s like an antioxidant – but instead of blocking the oxidation & breakdown of your molecules, it inhibits the decay of your “contentment molecules.” The more you protect them with daily doses of gratitude, the larger and stronger they will grow.

Or to put it another way – the taller you’ll be able to stack that tower of blocks.

Click here for the next block in this series!

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

BuildingBlocks
{Note: I’m kind of bemoaning the fact that I made this the first building block. I do heartily believe it’s of utmost importance, but this is a loaded word even in Christian circles, and I’m a little bit afraid to post my thoughts out where everyone can see them. I’m pressing “publish” with prayers that you’ll read with an open mind – and if you disagree, please share your heart. Tell me where you see it differently.}

So. This came as a bit of a shock to me, but: apparently, I’m more of a traditionalist than I thought.

I didn’t start out that way! I was 21 when I got married, and even though I could probably have given a well-thought-out speech defining submission within the context of Christian marriage, the truth is that I wasn’t living it out. It took me years – close to ten YEARS – to see where my error lay.

My old pattern was to talk (and talk and talk and talk) my way into convincing my husband that what WE wanted to do was what I wanted to do. If we had a big decision to make, I could debate and argue until I was blue in the face. My strong verbal skills coupled with my innate stubbornness created a monster. His typically-male need for more time to mentally gear up for an argument coupled with his laid-back personality created a conflict-avoidant tendency to agree with whatever I was arguing for simply to end the conversation. And so I gave myself the comforting delusion that the way I approached him WAS a valid expression of submission.

I’m entitled to express my opinion! I told myself. He gets to make the final decision. The buck stops with him. I’m not going around spending money or making time commitments behind his back. It’s just that I’m usually on the “right side” of the decision…  so once I present my case, he just can’t help but see the light and agree with my brilliant insight into the situation. I’m not only a great example of ‘submission,’ but DUDE, I’m the help-meet-iest wife ever!

When I finally looked at my habit with clear eyes and an open heart, I saw that I was manipulating many situations. I was exactly the opposite of submissive – I was being controlling, and what’s worse, I was being passive-aggressive about it.

We had to learn a better way to communicate so that we could put God’s plan for relationships into effect. For my side, I had to learn to share my opinion {just} once. And then I have to stop talking. That part is REALLY, really hard for me! But it’s crucial. My husband is the kind of guy who prefers to gather all his information (which is usually my opinion, some research or data pertinent to the decision at hand, possibly the opinion of others involved like our kids, and sometimes a “gut check” with a man he respects) and he needs a little time to let that all marinate. At some point, it clicks into place for him and he’s ready to talk about it again.

On his side of things, he had to un-learn his habits of “go along to get along.” Instead of suffering in silence if I talk to much, he now says {something like}, “Okay, babe. Give me a minute.” He has started speaking up when he disagrees with me – sometimes on the first pass, and sometimes at the end of his process when he has looked at a decision from many angles. This was the hard part for him, because I had spent so many years reacting VERY poorly when he disagreed with me.

If you have fewer married-lady years under your belt, I hope you’ll take my story as an encouragement to identify your own patterns now, in your early days. Sometimes, it takes the help of a third party to clearly see the messages you may have picked up in your childhood or the way your two personalities are intersecting in good (or not-so-good) ways. We’ve been in short-term therapy several times during our married life, and it has been worth every minute and every penny we invested.

Okay, then, Michelle, so what does “submission” look like at your house now that you’ve got it all figured out?

Ha! Haha ha! Hang on a second while I chortle and chuckle and perhaps emit a ladylike snort.

I told you from the beginning that I really, really DON’T have it all figured out. I’ve just made progress through the years. But, tell you what, I’ll share a couple of stories of what it looks like for me to submit lovingly to my husband of going-on-13-years.

In 2010, my bright young surgery resident was faced with a choice: pick a fellowship or become a board-certified general surgeon. From the outset, this was clearly HIS decision to make; my role was never going to be to tell him “what to be when he grew up.” He did ask me, once or twice, what I thought about it, and I told him (I was really feeling tired of residency life and ready to settle down in a practice, but I knew that if fellowship was the right thing for him that I could make it work for me and the kids).  He decided that general surgery was the best fit for him, and signed up with recruiters.

Physician recruiters, similar to headhunters and recruiters in other fields, have this crazy job: they have lists of openings and they have lists of people. They try to match everyone up like some sort of professional eHarmony. As the calls and emails began to flood Chris’ inbox, I felt a very strong conviction that I could NOT let myself fall into my old habits of talking him in to something I thought I wanted. Chris asked for my input in building his “profile” with the recruiters – together we decided that we’d rather not relocate out west, but anywhere in the South would be preferable. I didn’t veto any major metro area or suggest any state-by-state limits. I was involved in a great ladies’ Bible study group, and I asked my friends there to pray for me to be level-headed and have peace during the job hunt. It was a period of incredible growth for my spirit – and when certain job opportunities came by, it was clear to me that God had been teaching me this principle for “such a time as this.”

One opportunity was for a tiny town in south Georgia. Most people might have glossed right over it. But it wasn’t just any town – it was my paternal grandmother’s town. (If you didn’t know, Thomasville is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth. My Grandmama’s garden is basically Eden, her voice is like an angel, and I’ve never felt more at “home” anywhere I’ve ever lived or traveled. She and my Granddaddy Leo were “home base” when I was a kid – no matter where the Army sent us, I could wing my way back to them.) I was intruiged and hopeful about that job, to say the least. It would have put us 4 hours west of my parents and 5 hours south of his parents. I could imagine raising my kids in the same spots I had spent so much time as a child, myself. But there were aspects of the deal that didn’t appeal to Chris, and so it wasn’t to be.

Another opportunity came along from a small town in western Kentucky. A place we had no ties, no family or history. As Chris gathered information about the job, he expressed excitement – but he was worried that I wouldn’t like the idea. Thank God for the work He has done! I was able to honestly tell the man I love that I would follow him to the end of the earth if that’s what he needed from me. “I can make a home and make a life anywhere,” I told him. “If you are sure it’s the place we need to be, if it’s a practice you can be happy working in for a lifetime, then I’m behind you 100%.” We went to visit, and it was actually a charming place. (You know the end of this story: Chris accepted the job offer, we moved to Owensboro in July 2011, and we’re still living here happily ever after.)

There are more stories – times when Chris’ feeling on a matter differed from mine. Choosing a home when we moved to Owensboro is a biggie (we visited 10; I loved one and he loved another; we bought his favorite. Turns out he was right – if we had bought my preference, in six months I’d have been lamenting how far I was from my new friends. The place he preferred is right around the corner and over the way from my closest girlfriends in town.)

Choosing our next home is an example, too (that story is all laid out here. I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but at this point I have faith that when I follow my husband’s lead, things really do unfold and work out in ways I could not have foreseen).

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes, I need to submit even when I really don’t understand his point of view. Want a recent example? Back in the spring, I bought an electric keyboard. It’s been over 20 years since I took piano lessons, and I have dreams of reviving my musical abilities (such as they were). I started working my way through a book for adult beginners, happily plunking out “Happy Birthday” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” While I’m goofily making my version of ‘music,’  our church’s worship band is on-stage every Sunday truly rocking the house. The keyboardist is a sweet young lady who is heading off to college, and our worship leader saw my post on Facebook the day I bought my keys. He suggested that I could brush up on my chords and join the band! At first I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. When Mary started playing with the band, she had never played that style of music before either, and he figured he could teach me enough basics to get up there and play with the band. When I relayed the idea to Chris, his first reaction was to laugh it off. But a few weeks later, when our worship leader asked again, Chris got serious. He laid out a list of reasons that he didn’t think it was a good idea for me to join the worship team.

I’ll be honest: some of his reasons hurt my feelings.  Some of his reasons made me feel defensive. Some of his reasons made me grumpy. But none of those feelings of mine made his reasons wrong.

This is a pretty simple scenario, actually. There’s a commitment available and I’d like to consider it. My husband prefers that I not take on this commitment. What’s a modern married lady to do?

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

~Ephesians 5:22-33

I’ll tell you what I did. The next time the worship leader asked if I was ready to fill in on keyboard, I told him that I wouldn’t be able to join the band because my husband had asked me to say no. “Not a fan?” the leader joked. “It’s not that,” I explained, “he loves the music you lead! But he has his reasons he’d rather I not get up there with y’all.” Now I confess: I hate to tell people no, and I felt terrible saying no to such an opportunity. I worried that the guy would think Chris was an ogre for “making me” turn it down, and I let myself fret about it for two or three whole minutes until I remembered: I know the truth of this principle. This house is my Ebenezer. I know that I can follow my husband, I can submit to his leadership, even if I’m not sure why I have to – in that moment.

The peace I found in that moment of remembering? THAT is the reason submission is Building Block #1. A submitted heart is able to be at peace with her circumstances, even if she doesn’t like them or love them or understand them – when she is sitting beside that big old Ebenezer rock, she knows that she can trust her husband and her Lord.  YES – I had a little while feeling discontent (I told you: I was hurt and sad and grumpy! I didn’t want to hear a “no.”) but having a history of submission and the blessing that follows when I’m where I’m supposed to be yielded PEACE and CONTENTMENT once more.

If you’re reading this post and you’re still not sure the dots really connect from submission in marriage to a heart of contentment, trust me. Come back tomorrow for the next piece of the puzzle. I promise it all goes together, and it actually creates a work of beauty.

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

ContagiousContentment

I have realized recently how much deeper my state of contentment has grown over the past few years. Some of that is due, I’m sure, to the fact that our life has gotten easier (by many measures) since the end of Chris’ residency. I struggled more with finding contentment when I was worried about paying our bills all the time. So in that regard, feel free to ignore everything I say on this matter. Maybe, a little voice in the back of my head nags, I’m only content because our finances have improved. Maybe I don’t have a right to speak on this matter at all, it says, because I’ve certainly not mastered it!

But then, on the other hand: I know there are people whose income dwarfs ours, who do not feel content. And my inner sense of satisfaction and happiness is so much broader than only being content with the stuff we have. So I think it would be unwise and unfair to say that’s the only thing which impacted my level of contentment. A different little voice – this one from somewhere deeper inside than just the back of my head – tells me that I can speak from where I stand. So from the very start, let me be plain: I know I’m not at the end of this long road! But I’m further down the path than I used to be, so I want to share what I’ve learned so far and encourage you if you’re walking this way.

Here’s what I know for sure. I’m full of hope that one day, I can state with Paul:

I have learned 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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11b-13

I think that most Christians, if we’re honest with ourselves, feel a little intimidated by this passage. The Apostle Paul has been arrested, jailed, and mistreated and can still proclaim that he has learned to be content in all circumstances? Jeepers, mister, I get uncomfortable when I notice the neighbor’s new car (or grill, or playset, or well-behaved children). It’s easy to think that if we don’t have that unassailable level of smooth contentment now… we never will.

Throughout God’s Word, we hear the message of sanctifying and redeeming grace. As with other aspects of our character and inner life, contentment is a product of the Holy Spirit working within your heart and mind; it is not something we can force ourselves to have by the power of the will. A vague, simple wanting (I wish I could just be happy!) won’t generate deep contentment. You might be able to produce complacency all on your own! But for true and lasting contentment, you need the Help of your Savior.

So, what has been at work in my heart? Over the past four years, God has taught me so much about four vital principles:

BuildingBlocks

submission
gratitude
service
connection

As I have reflected on contentment the last few days, I realize that each of these attitudes had a direct impact on my feelings of being content. Initially, I thought I could put everything I wanted to say in one post. But you know me: I’ve always got words to spare. Watch for upcoming posts on the four building blocks, and join the conversation by commenting or tweeting #contagiouscontentment.

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Socrates Contentment
We’re thinking about contentment, friends, and I find myself both challenged and inspired by thoughts like these. Do you have a favorite quotation or maxim about contentedness? Please share!
#ContagiousContentment

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

This may be a strange thing to write about when a person finds herself in the middle of selling one house in order to buy a larger one. But I’ve had a few conversations lately which have turned my heart toward the notion of contentment, and I think it bears examination.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further  than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.  –L Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Contentment, the feeling of satisfaction and happiness, can be such a fleeting emotion. Another way to frame the discussion about contentment is to take the negative approach: contentment is the absence of want, it is the lack of envy. There is peace in the circumstances of the moment. A content heart is cheerful and pleasant, just as it is.

ContagiousContentment

I’m going to devote my next few posts to gathering my own thoughts about contentment, rounding up the excellent viewpoints of bloggers and theologians, and sharing quotes and Scriptures that can inform the discussion.

Do you struggle with discontentment? Have you found a way through the struggle and landed in a place of peace? Join the conversation. Comment below or tweet @MichelleNebel  #contagiouscontentment.

 

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

subscribe

Categories

Categories

Archives

Archives

Latest tweets