A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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Christmas Joy and Update

We’ve had a great week of music and fun excursions!

First off, Caleb’s school’s Christmas Concert was quite a treat. We got to see all the grades singing and playing musical instruments. And not only that, Caleb sang a solo on one song and debuted his cello playing during the prelude! One of the other treats is watching the parents. They’re waving while kids are singing or they’re crouching near the foot of the stage with iPhones poised to snap just the right pic of their singing child.

The next day they sang in the Capitol Building’s rotunda. Ah, that brought back

Capitol_sing_2017

Caleb is way up on the right in the second to last row.

memories, I was able to do that in high school! Nothing resounds vocal music so majestically as the harmonizing chords ringing up through the marbled rotunda dome! Listening carefully reveals the delicately fading notes with more piling up behind them.

Comfort_joy_marqueeA couple of days later we took a jaunt up to Portland, Oregon. Portland may be known for riots and roses or microbeer and artistic donuts; but it also has a vibrant music scene that includes the Oregon Symphony. Our end goal was to enjoy our second year in a row of the symphony’s Comfort and Joy classical Christmas concert. This year, though, we decided to spend the night rather than have a quick daytrip. Staying overnight opens opportunities for new and fun adventures.

For instance, we rode an actual streetcar! We wanted to get to the Tillikum Crossing bridge, the new pedestrian-friendly bridge (it’s the largest car-free bridge in the United States). It’s also known as the Bridge of the People (Tilikum is a Chinook word for people). It was a relatively long walk from our hotel, so I asked a friendly Portland police officer her recommendation for getting there. She suggested the streetcar which stopped only three blocks away. So off we trudged to 11th and Taylor.

It took a minute or two to figure out the ticket-buying kiosk; I am from the ‘burbs after all. And adding to the pressure was the streetcar lurching up the hill towards us two blocks away. Just in time, though, three receipts slid out of the kiosk and we boarded on our first trip on a bone fide streetcar!

We got off the streetcar on the northwest side of the bridge. Then we walked across the bridge back to the southwest side. From the bride we enjoyed the skyline of tall and diverse skyscrapers, the west hills, and the Willamette River rolling along its northward trek toward the Columbia.

Back in downtown we sauntered over to Pioneer Courthouse square. The square has thePioneer_tree_2017 biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in person. We also had another first: real chestnuts roasted over an open fire! Well, it was actually a large wok sitting atop an open flame; but hey, we had roasted chestnuts. As the purveyor said, they tasted more like sweet potatoes than like nuts. And, frankly, they’re labor-intensive to peel and eat. But at least we briefly lived out a scene from a famous Christmas choral.

Inside_symphony_2017After some shopping, gawking at all the lights and dinner, it was off to the symphony! It was wonderful. We were in the fourth row on the aisle on the violin side of the orchestra. Oh, the music! Beautiful, lyrical, and layered with the sounds only a symphony orchestra can produce. There was also a sing-a-long and the director provided brief and often humorous commentary. It was definitely worth the price of admission and I’m already looking forward to next year!

What a fun few days in this festive season!

Now The Update

Following up on my last post, my doctor did order an MRI. I had that Wednesday and got the results yesterday afternoon. I won’t elaborate, but the news isn’t reassuring. It does, however, clearly explain the cause of the pain. The next step is consulting with a neurosurgeon. I am, of course, quite concerned about this. But a recent devotional reminded me of a record from Daniel:

“Our God will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace … but if not, let it be known to you, O king, we do not serve your gods.”

—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego addressing King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18.

I know I’m not facing a fiery furnace, still, I will face whatever is coming with faith and strength in God. Eventually healing will come, I’m just not sure what avenue it’ll come through. Until it does, though, I pray for protection from the worldly “gods” of discouragement and self-pity.