I grew up believing I would be a missionary. After feeding on thick books about Amy Carmichael and Hudson Taylor, I buckled seat belts on as many planes as possible and headed to Gabon, West Africa, Albania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Tibet.
I learned to fall in love with people while dancing the salsa in an upstairs cafe in Ecuador, while looking into jet black faces with shiny white smiles, and while trying to learn Spanish one “como se dice” at a time.
And I learned to love people while looking into the eyes of the Buddhist monk in Tibet. He invited us into his cell and served us Tang out of a small, metal thermos. Mine had a large black fly swimming in the middle. He quickly turned around and flicked it out and then offered it back to me with a smile. Andrew played soccer with the younger monks in their long red robes in an open space in the middle of their buildings. They kept reaching down and rewinding the fabric as it slipped.
But sometimes it’s easier to love the exotic “other” rather than the neighbor who shares a fence.
In seminary Andrew and I went to Myanmar/Burma for six weeks with a professor and I was surprised to find that now just six weeks was too long. I missed the familiar cheeseburger and now dreamed about a home to bring babies home from the hospital to. However, when we bought the yellow cottage and I woke up early and went to sleep late with the babies, I now craved the unknown of adventure, the red dirt streets of a faraway marketplace, the bowl of noodles with chopsticks.
My mind had been captured in a web of discontent.
Out of seminary, six years of ministry and two babies later, I started intuiting that the pattern of discontent, my constant proclivity to look for “greener pastures,” was tied to the drag of depression. I had become familiar with its grasping power and it was time to put discontent away. Searching for the key, I turned to my concordance with the word “content” and then Philippians 4:10-14. There I read Paul had grasped what I knew I needed to learn. He wrote: “I have learned the secret of being content” but I had learned no such secret. All I knew was a gnawing fantasy world that was never satisfied.
The secret to a joy-filled life lays deep in the recesses of a hard won contentment. It cannot be taught. It will never be caught. It can only be learned. It can only be chosen. I was going to need that secret if I would ever learn to love my zipcode.
Paul embarrasses our efforts when he writes in chains, (Phil 4:12-14): “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.”
Paul’s secret? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Our secret? We can choose to love this zip code leaning heavy on the strength of Christ,
- who chose earth when he could have stayed enthroned in heaven,
- who chose to eat at the table with sinners when he could have eaten in political comfort,
- who chose service when he could have chosen power,
- who chose death when he could have worn a crown,
- who chose to fall in love with an unworthy people, walk their streets, touch their leprosy, use the earth’s mud to set their eyes free to see glory.
In Linda Dillow’s book, Calm My Anxious Heart, the author recounts the story of a missionary wife named Ella Spees, who worked beside her husband in primitive conditions with the pygmies in Africa for 52 years. Ella’s journal was found after her death along with this prescription for contentment:
- Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.
- Never picture yourself in any other circumstance or someplace else.
- Never compare your lot with another’s.
- Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
- Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that tomorrow is God’s, not ours.
As we choose this new zip code, we beg for an enlarged heart, for the strength of a Christ who chose service and did not demand impossible perfection. We choose to look into the eyes of our next-door neighbor with grace and beckon with invitation. We choose to eat out of the hands of God who ALWAYS gives good things because He Is Good.
We choose the daily yes of contentment.
Action: Keep filling up the pages of your thanksgiving list. Keep writing line after line. Nature abhors a vacuum and though we start recognizing and journaling the patterns of discontent, we need to fill the emptiness with something new, something good. Also from Philippians 4, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
Today Hunt Beauty. Give thanks.
We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.