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. — Apostle Paul
My wife and I had a plan when we were first married.
Work for 3 years, save some money, get pregnant with our first child, buy a house, live happily ever after.
It didn’t go that way.
We packed for our move to Oregon the day we got back from our honeymoon and hit the road two days later. The job I took meant we would be 1000 miles from my wife’s family in California. Being in our early/ mid-twenties it was also a season of many of our friends getting married.
We did a lot of flying/driving back to California during those early years.
Our weekends were spent hiking, eating out, and going to the movies. Free time and money was mostly spent on enjoying life.
Once the 3-year mark hit, we realized how happy we were and didn’t want to add a child to our rhythms. I wasn’t ready to give up 4th meal at Taco Bell at 1am after a late movie.
About 2 years later we were “ready” for the epic life change — we wanted a child.
Then the baby arrived.
A year later we were buried in hospital bills, students loans, and credit card debt. Trips to California, eating good food, seeing tons of movies, having a pretty decent wardrobe, getting car repairs done, and several other medical bills we put on the credit card had all added up.
My wife was still employed, but she stepped out of her management position a few months after we had our son. Working 40 hours a week with the completely random schedule of the retail industry was crazy with a newborn.
My income had to be enough to keep us going if she worked part-time.
Our expenses went up with the new member to our family, but our income went down.
We did what we could to get out of the debt — paying as much as possible when able.
In settling with 3 credit card companies to pay them off in-full we had neglected one other card. That neglected credit card company eventually sued me.
At the same time the hospital was unwilling to accept the minimum payment we were able to afford. It was either pay their minimum (more than 4x what we could afford) or go into collections.
We didn’t know what else to do but claim bankruptcy.
So much for settling those 3 credit cards…
The future we had laid out to have a baby and own a house at age 27 turned into a baby, bankruptcy, and still renting at age 29.
Over the next 5 years we had two more children, and moved out of our 3-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom condo when the owners sold the house.
Now we are 35-years-old, don’t own a home, no money saved, and are struggling to rebuild our credit. I look back at the “plan” we originally had and laugh.
Here’s the thing, 11+ years into our marriage we are not living the life we thought we would when we were dreaming on our honeymoon. But it kinda doesn’t matter.
Yes, we aren’t where we want to be financially, and there are some posessions we wish we had. But we have 3 phenomenal kids, and we are still in love. We’ve fought tooth and nail on our marriage to get here and to stay committed to one another, and it’s resulted in a home filled with joy.
We are beginning to understand contentment.
Contentment doesn’t mean you don’t want more out of life. It simply means you’re satisfied whether you have a lot or a little.
We are “satisfied” with our life, but we are still setting goals for the future. Being happy in our current situation while also dreaming of a different future are not two conflicting things.
The goal of having a house someday is still on the list. Having a nice bit of savings as opposed to living paycheck-to-paycheck is still on the list. A bigger car/van to fit our family in is on the list.
Contentment is recognizing and appreciating the awesomeness of what you have even while you have dreams of a bigger, brighter future.
We have a nice roof over our heads, a car that runs well, and our bills get paid every month. That is an incredibly satisfying thing.
The phrase “I have learned” in the quote above could be more accurately translated, “I have been instructed.”
The picture that phrase creates is that my life has been my teacher, my instructor.
I have been so disciplined by my life’s experiences that no matter what comes my way I can endure it. I am so intimately acquainted with this circumstance or that circumstance that I am perfectly satisfied with either.
As life happens, this is what I desire to lean into.
Let’s be instructed by our life’s circumstances in a way that we are intimately acquainted with all seasons so that when a different one arises we are content, satisfied, and not shaken.
When we do this we will find happiness and joy in all seasons; in plenty and in want.