I was spending a ridiculously long time on aisle 8, trying to track down a particular kind of jelly for my appetizer dish. And there was this woman with her two babies seemingly doing the same – except she was torn between picking the right kind of honey (I think), responding to her 5-year old’s endless questions all the while keeping her toddler entertained. I couldn’t help but notice her. She was not only strikingly beautiful, but she was dressed incredibly well AND her babies should have been in a magazine. How can you not sort of stare in awe a little bit, right? She was #goals. And from the outside looking in, she had it all.
When I went to checkout, there were long lines at all the cashiers since it was a Sunday. Anyway, the woman just so happened to get in my line. She was on the phone. And I soon discovered (through a little unintentional eavesdropping), that even though things appeared perfect, she was struggling—like really struggling. She and her husband were not on the same page about more children, and it was causing major frustration for both of them – or so it seemed.
And here I thought she had it all, but her struggle revealed that something is missing. It seems the older I get, the more I’m starting to realize that something always seems to be lacking. And who knows whether or not another baby is her “missing thing” or not. Maybe she just wants to be in a good place with her husband. I don’t know. Whatever the case, this got me thinking…
No matter what season of life you’re in, there will always be something you feel like you’re missing. Regardless of the accomplishments or milestones you’ve “achieved”—or what your life looks like from the outside—you feel it. Because we all do—whether we realize it or not. Someone else’s grass is always greener.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul talks about contentment; he says he has learned how to be content in all circumstances. It’s kind of funny if you read it; in typical Paul fashion, he says it super matter-of-fact. But I don’t think he means it’s the easiest thing to do. I think this is something he had to fight for every day. (Remember this is a single dude, who had sacrificed marriage and embraced singleness for the good of his gospel work. Before his death he will be shipwrecked, separated from friends, and imprisoned multiple times.)
Back to Paul learning how to be content. I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t think he climbed the “contentment mountain,” got to the top, and never had to work on being content again. He had to choose to climb every single day, relying on God to provide every single need “from the riches of HIS glory . . .” (Philippians 4:19). It didn’t just happen and then “poof,” everything was easy all of a sudden. I think he had to preach the gospel to himself day in and day out.
And yes, there is a certain sense of peace that we can have in our hearts when we remind ourselves of God’s truths BUT as long as we are on this side of heaven, it’s gonna be a fight.
Paul was content in his loneliness, pain, suffering and imprisonment. But really? How? I mean, that seems crazy doesn’t it?
Well, Paul tips his hand early in his letter to the Philippians, he says something really profound, revealing the gateway to his contentment. In Philippians 1:29, Paul says: “for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” What? Yes. Suffering is a part of life and, (don’t miss this) the path to contentment!
And so it is for us today. At least I know it’s true for me—and most likely you too. There will always be more to do, ways to improve, and something we feel like we’re missing. Our struggles may all look different, but the longing feeling is something I think we all share. And it will often hijack our joy and divert our energy and focus. But what if we could ransom or get back our joy, hope, focus, passion? What if we accepted and even celebrated that this life is about living well in the struggle and longing? What if what I always thought was plan B for my life is God’s plan A? I’m starting to realize that embracing these truths makes all the difference.
They say that all heartache is rooted in unmet expectation. So if we expect our lives to be free from pain or struggle (or that we will eventually be done with the hard things), then I think we are essentially setting ourselves up for failure.
So, what if we just know and accept that the suffering is normal? What if we just embrace the struggle as part of our journey and learn to place our hopes in the Story Writer, rather than the story? Because the truth is, if it’s not this current struggle or longing, then it’ll be something else.
Once we realize this—that the struggle is part of the story God’s working out for us—it really frees us to be content where we are with what we’ve got. It shifts the posture of our hearts and can really transform our experiences. I think chasing this kind of thinking—that Paul seemed to naturally possess—is where the good stuff happens. But keep in mind, I’m still figuring this out too and am writing from a point of “in the middle” rather than “on the other side.”
I’m just now processing all of this. I believe it’s true. In fact, I’ve experienced it from time to time. But I wouldn’t say it’s my go-to “norm” (or default mode) as it seemed to be for Paul. Maybe I’ll get better with time. Maybe it’ll be easier to choose God’s truth each time I decide to do so.
I want peace to be the normal default for me when my expectations don’t match my experiences. I want to remain grounded in my understanding that this life is hard, and suffering isn’t something we should constantly try to avoid, escape, or merely get through. Instead, I’d like to rest in the confidence that this, even this, has a purpose.
I’m not sure that’s something I can just fall into. I need to be prepared. I need to actively be preaching these truths to my heart and reminding myself that God is working in my life RIGHT NOW. And that whatever I’m going through right now is exactly where I’m meant to be. And that He’s teaching me and sanctifying me through every detail of my current story.
So if something feels missing and you can’t put your finger on it, trust me when I say you won’t find it in the next guy or house or career or medication. When you are anchored to eternity, the grip you have on this world will loosen, and you’ll come to agree: “The richest person isn’t the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.” (Unknown)
So here’s what I’m asking myself today. What if we were prepared that, for the glory of God, we will experience suffering? What do you think about that question? What’s your current struggle? What if there is a purpose in this suffering? What do you think that purpose is?