“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
Many of you reading this blog post do not know me personally. Everything you know about me is contained in the words of this blog and perhaps some conversations shared on Facebook. So, let me start by telling you a bit more about me.
I am the oldest of four girls in my family. I have always been smart: I succeeded in school at all levels and I have friends that value my insight. I have always been athletic, but never the super-star: I always worked hard and did well in school sports, but I would not say that I was a star at any sport. I have always had friends, but never part of the “popular” crowd. In fact, there were many times in those dreaded middle and high school years where I was mocked, ridiculed, and verbally bullied by others. I can vividly recall times when I was teased for my height, how I dressed, or just the fact that I was smart. I craved acceptance and love from those around me and as a consequence, I made some poor choices to try to get others to love me. Of course, they never worked out long term and often led to disappointment and depression. Until I started to accept who I was as a child of God, I was not content. I was in a constant search for love, one that would have been fruitless if I had not turned back to God.
Why do I share this glimpse into my life? I, like Paul shares with us in Philippians, have begun to find the secret to contentment, and I would like to share that secret with you so that you might find it too. Philippians 4:11-13 says:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
Paul can say that he experienced plenty and want, well fed and hungry, even free and a prisoner. Yet, through all of this, Paul says he found contentment. Paul says he could do this “through Him who gives me strength.” Paul understood that being a Christian did not mean freedom from trial, only the promise of God with you.
Looking back over my life so far, I can see many periods of trial amidst a blessed life. Although the trials I have weathered seemed insurmountable at times, I have seen the changes God has made in me through those challenges. In the book Let.It.Go. by Karen Ehman, she shares five questions to ask yourself when you face difficult circumstances or find yourself in the trap of comparing yourself to others.
- What does God want me to learn about him that I might never discover if he were to suddenly pluck me out of this situation?
- What Christlike character traits is he trying to grow in me–patience, trust, compassion, faith?
- Who is watching–either up close or from afar–and discovering what God is like by my reactions to my current situation?
- How might my empathy for others deepen if I go through this current trial with grace and acceptance?
- What is God trying to say to me, not by the outcome, but through the voyage? (p. 192)
This highlights an important skill we need to master to be content human beings: finding things to be thankful for in the midst of WHATEVER you face.
Let’s look at the fourth question Karen Ehman poses: “How might my empathy for others deepen if I go through this current trial with grace and acceptance?” As I shared with you earlier, I would often be considered an outsider or weird, especially as a child. This was difficult. I often found myself trying to be like others or simply hating who I was. I have learned a lot since then. First, I love myself. It was only possible through God, but I do. I am content with the person I am while still working to become closer to the person God wants me to be.
Beyond learning how to love myself, however, I learned what might be an even more important lesson: how to love others, even those who seem unlovable. Before my children were born, I was a high school math teacher and youth group leader. I got to gaze upon the hardship of being a teenager from the outside with the benefit of healing on my side. I saw them struggle against gossip, bullying, failing to succeed academically, and many other trials. While we struggle with these issues our entire life, the worst of it seems to concentrate on our teenage years.
Why do we label each other? Nerd, skater, druggie, jock, preppy, poor, dumb, geek, weird, promiscuous, the list could go on and on. We act as if we put people in categories life will somehow be easier to handle. The fact is, God made us all to be unique individuals. Many things we get upset about are just not that important. God expects us to love one another, not just those who are easy to love or who are like us.
What has God taught me through the struggle of being different? Perhaps the most important lesson I will ever learn: show love to ALL people. This is not always easy, but I promise you it is worth it. Think about how many suicides could be prevented, bouts of depression could be shortened, not to mention people who meet their full potential with confidence because they felt God’s love here on earth. I pray that you take this thought with you as you respond to others, in person and through social media. Reach out to someone who is calling for help. We all need a loving hand reaching out from time to time.