The Land in Between Pt.2 – “The Art of Letting Go”
“I have learned the secret of contentment.” Wow. That is a quite a statement to make. If you really think about its implications, it seems so implausible that it almost sounds like the intro to a bad infomercial….“I’ll share with you the secret of contentment in three easy steps and for two easy payments of $29.95, you can be in a state of perpetual satisfaction…but wait…there’s more!!” To infer that I know how to be content, always, in every situation and in every circumstance and no matter how bleak things appear, I have peace…well that’s quite the boast. But in our culture that is consumed, driven, fixated and obsessed with the desire for more, bigger, faster, sleeker, skinnier, smarter better, ad nauseam, we sure could stand for a stiff dose of contentment.
If I hear someone tell me that they have the secret to something that I need, I might first roll my eyes and then, if I was still listening, I would quickly assess the credibility of the person speaking to me. There are a lot of voices out there folks, all vying for our attention (or money…usually both) so if someone is telling me that they have something I need, especially something as life-changing as perpetual contentment, I want to know if this person has any cred. Well consider the credentials of the man who claimed to find the secret…stoned by an angry mob and left for dead, beaten with rods on three occasions, whipped with 39 lashes five times, multiple death threats, shipwrecked three times, criticized by friends, under arrest for two years without a trial, oh, almost forgot…bit by a deadly viper after almost dying in a shipwreck, and those are the things we know about. And by the way, he wrote those words from jail. That infamous statement about contentment was written by Paul the Apostle. The entire quote is captured in the Bible, in a letter that Paul had written to a group of people in the ancient city of Philippi.
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:12
What in the world?!? How does anyone make a claim like this? Can anyone truly experience contentment in any and every circumstance? If this came from anyone other than someone who had endured so much suffering, would you believe them? I don’t think I would. But knowing what I know about Paul’s life and suffering, he has my attention. But how did he do it? How did Paul experience contentment in the midst of such hardship and what is his message to us a couple thousand years removed?
As I journey through this season of vocational transition, a season I have entitled “The Land in Between”, I have wrestled for many sleepless nights searching for the place where we will put our foot down next. Traversing a season of vocational and financial uncertainty is not easy. Certainly not one that you would think could elicit contentment and peace. But the longer I’ve walked this road, the more I realize that I am not alone. Oh not just in terms of the job search but in terms of the uncertainties of life that we all face at sometime in this journey called life. As you read these words you can probably fill in the blank on that season or situation in your life that has you worried or tempted you to fear. It may not be a job, but it might be a diagnosis, a troubled or broken relationship, an addiction that you can’t seem to defeat, the loneliness that doesn’t seem to end, the desire that has eluded you for years, or maybe the nagging emptiness that just won’t be filled by all the good things you accumulated or experienced that you thought would bring you happiness. Whatever the trial…we all endure something…and we all seek answers…to make sense…to bring resolve…to bring peace. But how then do we live…when there are no easy answers…nothing makes sense…their is no immediate resolve…no easy answers?
Can I be content in every situation? How do we live with an attitude that truly reflects peace and contentment while we are living in the midst of tremendous need? I know that on a certain level that question doesn’t seem plausible, but neither does the contentment that Paul speaks about. You see, Paul had contentment even though his life appeared to have great need. And therein lies the hope. He was content with what he had even when he didn’t have all he needed. And Paul wasn’t delusional. He simply possessed something greater than His need. And at the risk of sounding overly simplistic, Paul gave us the secret, and it is agonizingly simple…
“I can do all things through Christ who give me strength” Philippians 4:13
There it is. Eleven words that unveil the secret to the greatest desire of every human heart. To live in perpetual peace and contentment. Simple to grasp in theory, but difficult to possess in reality. You see, I believe that genuine contentment can only be held by letting go. Letting go of control. Letting go of the need to know. Letting go of human logic. Letting go of the demands to have things our way and trusting in His unfailing love. Surrendering to the will and path of the One in whom is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.2:3) and letting Him fill the need as He knows is best, even when it’s not what we want. And that, my friend, ain’t so easy, but it is simple…it is right, and it is good.
Daily dying to self is the essence of surrender. But that surrender is not a nihilistic resignation to some random fate. We surrender to Christ. Because He loves us. Because He died for us. Because we exist on this earth to live for Him and His purposes. Because He is far wiser and sees further than our finite eyes can see or perceive. We let Him fill us with what we truly need…Him…His strength…His perspective…His Word…His Spirit…His Love. It is for these things that we were truly made. And because He is a good Father, He will give us all that we truly need to be content.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
So if you find yourself traveling the “Land in Between” today, and you are wrestling with anxiety or circumstances that won’t yield to your will, I encourage you to pray this simple prayer…”Lord Jesus, I can do nothing apart from you, but I can do all things through You who gives me strength. I give you my weak efforts to control my life and I yield control of all the outcomes of my life to You. By faith I choose to believe in Your unfailing love. Fill me with Your peace and grant me the contentment that comes as I place my trust in You. And Thank You for loving me with a perfect love that will never fail.”
Don’t be surprised if you need to pray this every day for a while, maybe a long while as you learn contentment. But you are in good company. Even Paul said that he “learned” that secret…over time. The good news is that it is His strength that will help you. Practice makes perfect. Surrender brings peace.
Grace and Peace for the Journey,