It’s still hard to fathom how much this pandemic has disrupted our lives. We are not where we thought we would be. And our current state lockdown and closed borders have made it difficult to predict when we will be able to return to our country of service. We feel like we are in an aeroplane that is in a holding pattern circling above an airport, peering out the small windows to try to spot our destination and see when we will land back on solid ground.
One of our kids made an astute observation the other day, “The hard thing about living in two places is that when I am in Southeast Asia, I miss Australia, but then when I am in Australia, I want to be back in Southeast Asia.”
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. And not just geographically.
Over time, the past can also begin to look more appealing, as previous difficulties and stressors fade, leaving only rose-coloured memories that we wish we could return to. It is tempting to look back longingly at the seemingly ordered, predictable past and to then anxiously peer ahead to an uncertain future.
The grass can look conspicuously greener on the other side, don’t you think?
For us, this season has been one big lesson in contentment.
Recently, I decided to switch off from most technology for a week, replacing the time with meditating on Scripture and sitting in quiet prayer. At the end of the week, I shared what God had been teaching me – to hold a posture of humility. I was challenged in my own expectations of life and where my focus should be – not on the “Why are we in this circumstance” but on “How do I respond” and “Who do you want me to be, God?” Do I expect life to go according to my plans and then fall apart when those plans turn out differently? Or do I ask God for the strength to deal with unexpected changes?
In reflecting on these things, we are encouraged by the life of the Apostle Paul and how he responded in times of upheaval. He knew what it was like to be stuck in places not part of his original plans. From prison, he wrote to the church in Philippi, thanking them for sharing in his troubles and saying, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13).”
Paul had learned that the secret to daily contentment, to persevering in joy, was to do all of life through Christ. Instead of dwelling on the “why” of his circumstances or what could have been, he chose to respond with humility, thankfulness and a focus on the “surpassing worth” of knowing Jesus. With this attitude, he became a powerful witness for Christ to the whole Imperial guard and wrote letters that encourage us even today.
As we seek to practice daily contentment like Paul, some habits we are finding helpful are reading Scripture and praying together as a family. Every morning before starting school, we spend time with the kids reading the Bible and praying for the day ahead. At the end of the day, as a family we list the things we are thankful for and pray for those around us. These rhythms help us cultivate humility, placing our situation into God’s hands and encouraging an attitude of thankfulness.
We can find contentment when we ask Christ to give us the strength to bear whatever situation we find ourselves in and choose to focus on the grass on our side of the fence. This season will not last forever. The holding pattern will eventually be over, the destination will come into focus and the plane will prepare for landing. But every moment, whether in the plane or on the ground, is a precious gift that we can respond to with humility and thankfulness.
That is where true contentment lies.
Caitlin and Will along with their kids are Interserve Partners in Southeast Asia.
*Names have been changed.