Contentment is a slippery and alluring feeling. It seems to me I’ve spent much of my life looking forward to the next season and merely trying to endure the current one. When you plant a church the process can be so grueling and intense you have trouble appreciating the process. You constantly catch yourself wanting to fast-forward life to a season where there are more people, a bigger budget, and stronger support staff. Around August of this past year, Amanda and I had finally felt like we arrived at a place of contentment with the process. I’m not sure how to explain it, but we had learned a rhythm of life that allowed us to appreciate the craziness of helping hurting people, raising up leaders, and parenting Weston. And then November 10th happened. That day turned everything in my world upside-down.
Now in this season I wish I could go back to ANY season in the past 10 years of my life. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me which season, so long as she’s in it. But I can’t. And I find myself yet again attempting to just endure this season.
You see what I mean. Contentment is alluring.
But the apostle Paul wrote about something in Philippians 4 that The Lord brought to my mind a couple weeks ago:
"...for 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.” (Philippians 4:11-12)
It made me angry when I remembered this verse, because my initial thought was, “What does Paul know?! He’s never lost a wife!” And then The Lord reminded me of the season in which Paul found himself when he wrote this. Prison. After having lost everything, running for his life, receiving no tangible, visible reward for his hard work on earth to build the Church, beaten, flogged, hungry, and in the deep dark recesses of a dank dungeon he writes, “I’ve learned to be content whatever the circumstances."
Paul’s circumstances make mine seem JV.
So what’s the secret to contentment Paul is talking about?
If I’m being honest, the greatest emotion I feel which makes it difficult to find contentment is Loneliness. I lost the one person on this earth I could share everything with with no risk of judgement or scorn - my hopes, my fears, my dreams, my insecurities, my victories. Now that person is gone. In a moment she was ripped from me. Overnight I’m single again and trying to navigate the waters of finding contentment.
Before I met Amanda I had come to a place where I was completely content with singleness. I was tired of the dating game. I had almost given up on finding a girl who was passionately in love with Jesus and was completely comfortable in finding her identity in only Him. It was an Elizabeth Elliott book that helped me get to the place of contentment with my season of singleness. I finally realized that singleness wasn’t a SICKNESS; for some it’s a SEASON and for some it’s a CALLING. I remember one night stepping off a stage after leading worship at a youth event and feeling this overwhelming wave of contentment. In that moment backstage I told The Lord, “I’m ok if it’s just you and me doing ministry for the rest of my life."
4 months later he dropped Amanda into my life. And I mean literally dropped her into it. I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t scheming, I wasn’t pursuing. We were set-up on a blind date (which both of us were cynical of) and we fell for each other hard and fast. For the next 10 years it was REALLY easy to find contentment with her. Every day with her was a gift.
Now everything is different. Trying to get used to flying solo after you’ve been one with someone else is seemingly impossible! The other day I was preaching and I caught myself saying “we” instead of “I.” I said, “We are trying to teach Weston . . .” and then I stopped and realized that it’s just me now. I find myself doing this all the time. I’ve grown so accustomed to default to “WE decided to,” “WE think it’s best to,” “WE really like it when.” Now I’m having to learn how to make decisions alone. This is difficult when the first thing I used to do when confronted with a decision was turn to her and say, “Babe, what do you think?”
Now I’m trying to learn a NEW season of contentment, not necessarily without the gift of Amanda, but BEYOND the gift. Ironically it’s been an Elizabeth Elliott book that has helped me navigate these waters of Loneliness. In this book she talks about the “gain of loss” - a concept that is really hard to wrap my heart around. What she means is that what we gain in relationship with the Giver, outweighs the loss of the gift.
There was a line in the new Star Wars movie that stuck out to me:
“The Belonging you seek is not behind you, but before you.”
When I heard that line in the movie theater, I felt like Jesus was reaching out of the projector screen and shaking my heart! “Davey, I can fill the sense of belonging you’re looking for! It was never meant to be filled by Amanda! It was only meant to be filled by me!”
We’re all wired with a "longing for belonging." But when we find that belonging in the gift it becomes idolatry and leads to discontentment. When we find that belonging in the Giver it leads to contentment - in whatever the circumstances.
So what’s the secret to contentment Paul is talking about? Maybe it’s going back to “We” language. Maybe we were never meant to say “I.” The oneness we experience with someone else in marriage is merely a foretaste of the oneness we were intended to experience in Christ. So I’ve resolved that “WE decided to,” "WE think it’s best to,” “WE really like it when” is very appropriate for me still.
The “WE" is me and Jesus.
And when I feel the void that Amanda left - when that longing for belonging creeps up on me - I just look to Jesus and say, “Hey Jesus, since you are the only one who can, will you be that for me?"