Mark wrote this article several years ago for The Covenant newsletter. We thought Thanksgiving week was a good time to revisit it. Enjoy!
This past Saturday I was cleaning the window frames in my house. They were filthy brown with dead bugs and dirt from the past year. At the same time, the giggle-filled air of light-hearted neighborhood kids playing in mounds of snow sounded in my ears. When I turned to clean my muck-covered rag, I caught the smile and soft baby-babble of my sweet Cariann behind me. With my fisted rag still submerged, I paused and soaked in the delight of how her focus on exploration curls her tongue over eight-month old lips. Turning back to my tedious task with a lingering smile, I felt the surge of gratitude course through my being. I felt content. I was actually enjoying myself. How could this be? After all, there’s a reason I choose to do this tedious cleaning only once a year. Yet, there I was, feeling content right in the middle of the mundane.
You might think that my contentment was framed by circumstance. You may be right. If it means I can delight in my daughter’s presence like that, I’d wash my windows more often for sure. Yet, again and again in scripture, biblical characters experience contentment amidst struggle or difficulty in ways that go beyond just circumstance. Daniel was content while in the lions’ den (Daniel 6). Ruth was content to live with her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17). David was content to live in the wilderness rather than in the king’s palace (Psalm 131). Paul was content regardless of his imprisonment (Phil. 4:11-13). James and Peter also knew contentment when they too experienced trials and troubles of many kinds (James 1:2, 1Peter 1:6). Most amazing of all, Jesus was content to sit silently before Pilate and to go willingly to his death on the cross, even though all the angels of heaven waited for his command. This kind of contentment runs deeper than circumstance.
Some would say it is a person’s positive frame of attitude that gives contentment. Sure, living with the glass half full brings with it a general sense of positive regard toward life. Yet, doing so cannot change the reality of life’s difficulties. My springtime allergies don’t just disappear because I positively focus upon the beauty of the flowering trees this time of year. As much as I focus on the happy memories, cancer still stole my Dad’s life. There is one reality, not two halves of reality. No matter how rosey a picture I try to paint, life’s entropic crab grass, foxtail, and dandelion still pinch and prowl the landscape. To say otherwise, is simply out of touch with reality. If we are to truly enjoy the full places of life’s blessings, we sometimes need to have spaces for seeing life as half empty. If we only focus on sunshine, tiny little sea horses, and chickadees, life will at best remain only half full.
As inadequate as positive circumstance or positive attitude are for framing life, they both do point to a need for framing. The difference I see in scripture is that the biblical characters found contentment in every situation (blessing and difficulty) by trusting God to do the framing. Instead of relying on themselves to mute or escape life’s difficulties, they relied on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to frame their situation and attitude. Rather than seizing control, they humbly trusted God to provide and save them. The Bible tells us amidst the lions, Daniel trusted God; grieving the loss of her husband, Ruth made the God of her mother-in-law her own; while Saul sought to kill him, David calmed himself by putting his hope in the Lord; when there was not enough food to eat, Paul saw Jesus as his strength; in the brutality of persecution, James and Peter trusted God to prevail; and faced with the crucifixion, Jesus prayed ‘not my will, but thy will be done’. St. Augustine’s prayer, I believe, frames it well when he prayed, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
As we walk through this Thanksgiving week, may we be mindful of what is framing our perspective and experience of life. May we walk with gratitude, even in the darkest valleys of our lives, because of the marvelous light of Jesus provides for us in his life, crucifixion, and resurrection. May we each find a thankful heart, in all situations, by finding our home and our power framed within an intimate relationship with Christ.
“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives.” Colossians 3:15 (Message)