At my first glance, the tree looked lonely in its setting, starkly standing against a saxe sky and snow-covered cornfields. But this tree, guarding the space, spoke to me of solidity. calm, and contentment.
I spotted it when we took our horse-drawn sleigh ride and actually asked our driver to stop so Dave could lean back and get this angle. This God-placed tree remains contented in every season, a fact that confronts my easy slips into discontentment.
My winter Bible reading draws from Genesis and Luke’s gospel. The familiar texts confront me with the words I so easily forget: Eden, Gethsemane, nails, empty tomb. God’s fabulous creation, man’s cataclysmic fall, the Second Adam’s bloody sweat, the ultimate pain that nailed my sins into His flesh, the triumph over death that opens life eternal for sinners like me.
I find comfort when the apostle Paul says he “has learned” to be content in every situation. Ahh, a process. As a former teacher (OK, once a teacher, always a teacher), I remember the steps of learning.
Processing the information often takes quiet, contemplation or time for memorization or for problem solving.
Failures frustrate, but so often meaningful growth spurts erupt from failures.
Practice, repeated, repeated, repeated.
The body’s aches complain; the brain freeze throbs.
Repeat: we practice, meet new failures, snatch glimpses of a few successes
We may retry with a new method or idea, but the repetition of practicing continues…
Scales for the musician, steps for the toddler, sounds for the composer, syllables for the stroke victim as well as as the baby, synonyms for the writer… Again?
I’m now watching a learning experience as Baby begins training. Her parents (and her grandparents too!) model crawling; now she crawls, even in the sand. As she works her way to running, she’ll repeat various steps:
Crawling, face planting, crawling, sitting up
fussing in loud frustration
taking steps with Mom and Dad’s help
tottering alone trying independent steps
falling, stumbling, crying, tripping, falling, walking,
Hitting the “repeat” button
Perhaps each new challenge encourages us to try, but if we lose contentment along the way, what a cost we have paid! Continuing to strive is good only when we stop long enough to savor contentment.
What if children got so impatient to run everywhere as fast as they could make their legs go, but never saw any beauty zipping by them? Always wanting to run faster but never content to savor the abilities they had? Never trying to teach someone else the sheer joy of running?
I apply this tension of contentment with discontentment to my spiritual battles. I hear the Sunday sermon, take copious notes, reread those notes on Tuesday, considering cross references here and there
More knowledge, further meditation, seeming growth.
Then, in some foolish moment, over virtually nothing, discontentment shoots out! I grouse –effortlessly, thoughtlessly. Yes, no one hears the words audibly –except the Holy Spirit. I acknowledge the discontent and plead with the Lord to help me grasp more of continuous contentment.
I look up from our tuna-fish- sandwich-Valentine’s-night picnic to find this glorious scene.
“Be still, my child; I will be your contentment in myriad ways. Just watch and listen.”