Posts Tagged ‘how to be content’

I ordered flowers for my wife last week. They almost made up for all the demands I have put on her for about — one day, but it was my utmost for the moment considering the limits of the pandemic. While living in extremis, giving what we can is still satisfying.

Almost is often the beautiful and satisfying result of utmost.

I used to workout at the gym. I can’t do that now so I use my stretchy bands at home. It’s an incomplete form of exercise, and yet it still successfully competes with what I did before.

Incomplete can still compete.

I look to God as the foremost beings in the universe, and I pray to him, but I know my prayers aren’t perfect. Too much asking. Not enough gratitude I’d say. I even think sometimes I could even be accused of acedia, spiritual sloth. I can’t seem to pray like I used to, but it’s almost as good.

My almost for His foremost.

I built four stonewalls last year in my gardens. I overdid it. I do that, sometimes, and sometimes the amount of work I do in a day is just right.

Sometimes is more honest than always.

The last couple of months I’ve spent mostly prone. Sick. Yuck. Laid low. Vulnerable. Blinkered. But I did orchestrate new financial arrangements for my family that brought about gains for my wife and I and both of my daughters. I had to work on accepting my limits and find successes where I could.

A partial victory is the satisfying reward given to acceptance.

Yesterday, I almost made the quintessential cup of espresso. I missed because the milk didn’t foam quite right. Great! Shoot!

Almost is a kind of first — and last.

My wife retired from her career as an archivist and a library loan specialist and then the pandemic hit. She had plans to volunteer at the zoo and exercise at the gym, but both of those are put on hold. Loss. Now she shops for groceries in a mask and supports me in the rough patch that I’ve been going through with my body. She makes huge, valiant and heroic efforts to normalize our lives.

Effort is often heroic and exists as a kind of loss steeped in kettle of valiant.

I’ve had careers as a teacher, a writer and a pastor. I was fairly satisfied with those, but careers are always in process and always present new challenges and new decisions to advance new initiatives. The goal never looked like one peak; it was more like making an constinuous approach march to many different high places.

Life is not summiting; it’s trailblazing.

Now I blog. And you my dear reader, you read. Thanks for that. It bonds us. Through this we come to some degree of connected wisdom, but wisdom is always something we practice on the next new challenge, and we often almost get it right. That’s the way it works. It’s kind of like playing a song on the piano and then trying it again, trying to interpret it and put the emotion and meaning it deserves into it. Practicing always invites us to another try.

Almost is a routine part of discipline.

A few weeks ago, before dawn, I took my telescope outside and looked at Jupiter and Saturn. I could see the moons of Jupiter orbiting the great planet, and the gorgeous ring of Saturn almost resolved, but I noted that the telescope was slightly out of alignment and so the mirrors weren’t quite up to the task. I gave it my total effort and so did the scope. I almost saw the fine detail in beautiful things, and as I look back on it I did see something beautiful in the try.

Almost is one of the most beautiful and coveted outcomes of total.

By now you must be getting the point. Almost — it is as common as a potato on a dinner plate. Almost, is good, like strawberries when they are almost but not quite perfectly sweet and not quite deliciously ripe. They are still good, especially if you top them with whipped cream.

Life is full of “almost,” the almost perfect relationship, the almost beautiful garden, the almost but not quite completed persona, and accepting that in one area of the fight can act as a halo effect, giving us contentment in other areas that don’t live up to perfectly perfect. To be satisfied with life — the limits it imposes, the yet unsung song it sings, the way things don’t always work out perfectly, we do well to come to a deep acceptance of an essential and ever-present ingredient of it. We do extremely well to value and love the je ne sais quoi that makes us mature, the hard to accept, the challenge to embrace — the amazing “almost.”

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If you like short, pithy, aphoristic expressions of insight, you can find more of my thought-proverbs, aphorisms and epigrams at www.modernproverbs.net

I heard a fiery sermon this morning. The preacher was good. Made some excellent points. The crowd laughed, and clapped. At the end speaker shouting. I got a feeling people were duly impressed.

Me, I just felt guilt. The text was Philippians 4:12-13.

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.

Great text. I’ve memorized it. It’s in my most recent journal. The point of the message given by the pastor was that it if you aren’t content and full of joy in hard times, in the storm, then you’re not an authentic Christian. You’re a fair weather Christian. If you’re only content in good times, prosperous times, times when you have nice stuff, times when things are going well, then you aren’t for real.

He ended shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

The whole thing made me feel somehow in adequate. I think it was because it felt like the pressure was all on me to do something to be more authentic. I know that in Corinthian’s Paul spoke of dispairing of “even life itself.” Nobody is up, positive, content all the time. That’s just not reality. 

I wanted to know more. I was left with questions?

I don’t tend to feel content in storms. How do I draw on that strength that comes from Jesus? Is there something I have to do? My efforts to be content in Jesus during storms don’t seem to work that well. On the other hand, I know I try to he authentic in my faith.

Thoughts: Looks like Paul’s strength was from Jesus, not from himself. Paul’s secret was that it was Christ strengthening him. Paul wasn’t strong. Jesus was. This distinction is important. Paul was quick to know his weakness in other places in Scripture. So what we make of all this?

Being content isn’t something we do, but something Christ does in us when he gives us strength. Paul learned that the strength wasn’t from him. He learned that we can’t make ourselves more content in hard times. Christ is the one who makes us content to suffer through the storm.

I suppose you could assert that we have to have the faith, but the Bible says even faith is a gift of God.

I think what helps me here is to see that this text is more about God being authentic than Paul or me. I’m pretty dodgy. Paul himself didn’t always have it together. But Jesus, he’s authentic, and he can do what we can’t do.

His strength that he brings to me by his initiative is what can get me through the storm.

So my, our, humble, broken Philippians 4 prayer might be, “God we seem to lack the power to do the very thing we want to do, be content with hardship. So it’s up to you. Christ be strength! Christ be the one who gives us even the faith that your strength is there for us. Jesus, it is you, not me, so be you in me.”

So in a sense I’m off the authentic making hook. Jesus is on the hook for me. He’s the one that is going to come through.

Thank God for that!

“I’m open. Christ be my contentment, Christ be strength in me.”

Most of us are afflicted — at least somewhat — with amassitude, anothery and an acute strain of likewiseness.

Last night, for a snack, I took seconds and thirds and a small fourth on some yummy Frosted Mini-Wheats. I added honey and almond milk.  Sweet on sweet, or double sweet.  Yum!

Then I got a yearning to see my Padres hit another home run against the Dodgers so I stayed up late to watch. They did, and again. Watching them play so hard made me tired, so I went to bed happy, and I got double-sleep by rolling over twice this morning and sleeping in.

“Ah and oh,” I love my firsts — and my seconds, sometimes my thirds. But I don’t like it when my waist line increases because of too much sweet cereal, or my sleep cycles are interrupted by too much coffee. I sometimes tend toward a little too much.

Thus and so, mostly and consistently, we are all, at times extendawonkers, increasaboys, supplementicators, expandimongers.

We indulge, then ask politely — sometimes not — for more, more cereal, condiments, compliments, constaments, cashiments, communications, curiosa,

A bit of this is normal, and good, but there is one unpleasant side effect to dipping in again and again and again — insatiably. It’s discontent. And its dissatisfaction. We may feed a human penchant for never-enough. We may become addicted to an incessant always-a-little-more.

What to do?

Don’t push it. Don’t feed, grow and propagate addiction. Be very happy with your one portion, perhaps a small second; be good with good that isn’t jumboed, big-gulped, value-added, honeyed, home-runned or supersized.

I think of Solomon and his erotic poem in the Bible, his sage, “Do not stir up love until it pleases,” smack in the middle of his well-kindled romantic ardor.

Pleasures will come to us when they will come to us, but if we force them we risk ruining them. To be puke-drunken, gorge-mucked, sex-smuckered or gagged-guzzled — it may be fun for some,  kind of, sort of at first (do you think so?), but it’s not that much fun, especially in the end.

Surfeit and its consequences — this is suffered willingly by fools, but the wise moderate, and enjoy life, and contentment. They partake, then they stop and they are happy holding back until the just-right-once-again-moment.

I had one latte this morning, brewed with my favorite, smooth Best Friends blend of Dark Horse coffee and 2% milk. So good!

Nothing in excess; some things not at all.

Smuzzle-stick!

The disparity between what I want and what I get can be uncomfortable for me.

I have this, I want that — ah.

This morning, another option occurs to me.

This morning, I open my bag of steel-cut oatmeal and put my nose down to top and, ah — a fresh, oaty, grain-kissed aroma rises to greet me.

My wife pushes the button on my coffee maker and ah —  a roasted, nutty, rich java fragrance wafts through the kitchen and surrounds me.

I go out to my backyard patio, which this summer is dressed in green lawn and yellow flowers and silver pond water and sit with my coffee and read the proverbs of King Solomon and, ah — an emotionally-energizing and rationally-enriching concept passes through my frontal lobe.

Wisdom has the sweet smell of contentment in it.

To reach for my cup, to walk to my gardern, to read my wisdom literature, to sit quietly in my garden and reflect —  this is a present-tense good that quashes that ubiquitous, unrelenting universal push for more.

It is enough for me in this moment to be able to walk, to be able to reach, to be able to taste and smell, to be able to sit quietly. It is enough and more than enough in the morning to have someone else in the kitchen to start my coffee for me.

There will be time, in the push and shove of time, for the working out of my good dreams and passionate visions.

But for now, the simple, gentle movements of the morning,  with someone who loves me, far removed from the bluster and press of my daily ambition — so frequently fraught with stress and anxiety — these are most beautiful, refreshing and precious.