“Teach my heart to love, not what used to be, not what is to be, but what is.” I wrote these words during a season of yearning and disquietness. Perhaps some of you may have prayed similar prayers. Maybe some of you know what it is to have your body strapped down to painful circumstances while your soul is constantly seeking escape — flying into the past where all was unbroken or into the future when all will be well again.
What Does the Heart Long For?
The heart longs for rest. It longs for peace and for beauty. When the present holds none of these things, there can grow a repugnance for the world around you. It can be difficult to accept, let alone love, when your world is marred by brokenness.
I don’t know what your world consists of at this moment. I don’t know how often you get up at night to give medications, to turn on and off machines, to soothe your child or to clean up messes and I don’t know the things you have seen – the images that are locked in your mind. When you close your eyes perhaps you see your child going limp in your arms while being sedated for yet another procedure. Maybe it is the look of terror and confusion in your child’s eyes as a doctor explains a bitter prognosis. How can you love this? How can you take and draw into your embrace a set of circumstances that seem only to wound you? Can you? Is it possible to love what you despise? Is it possible to take into your arms and cherish the very circumstances that crush your soul?
The answer is, and always will be, you can and you must.
I know I am writing to people who are faced with the task of embracing and accepting seemingly unbearable lives. There are those of you who are caring for a child that will require life-long care. There are those of you who have never heard your child speak, and those of you whose body has been torn and worn by the constant physical demand of caring for a child who is growing physically but not developmentally. I know there are some of you who are being forced to watch your once healthy child lose abilities. And I know there are those who are watching as your child grows weaker and weaker by the day.
Many of you, no doubt, feel as comfortable in a hospital as you do in your own home. You know when shift change occurs, where the warm blankets are kept and how to walk blind-folded from the parking garage to various units.
Though each of your stories are different, you are all, someway or another, well-versed in pain, heartbreak and sorrow. What I want you to know now is that if you want to survive, you must become equally well-versed in the art of contentment, for contentment is merely learning to love what is. Contentment is learning to rest both your body and soul in the place that God has placed you and to build a home there. Contentment is an art. It is a skill. It is an evidence of God’s grace. And it is the thing that will carry your soul as you carry the impossible.
What is Contentment All About?
Now when I speak of contentment, I do not speak about passivity. I am not talking about “giving up” or “just accepting” the set of circumstances you have been handed. Biblical contentment has nothing to do with the “door-mat” mentality that some may think of when they hear the term contentment. Biblical contentment is a much more robust, multifaceted thing. There is room in biblical contentment for the fight. There is a place to stretch and reach for cures and progress. Biblical contentment doesn’t compel us to resignation. It merely teaches us to embrace what is before us with gratitude while ever working to change it. Biblical contentment has two hands: one that draws the present to its heart and the other that reaches out in hope.
The apostle Paul, a man who speaks from experience when it comes to hardships, took time to teach about his experience in learning the art of contentment. In the book of Philippians he writes of both embracing and seeking in the face of difficulty. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). Here we receive permission, and truly instruction, to yearn – to lift our faces to God and to cry out for hope, healing, change, answers — while at the same time wrapping our arms around what we have before us and bathing it in gratitude.
So often, in the midst of pain we instinctively cry out – prayer and supplication flow from us as naturally as tears. Yet, Paul wisely urges us to add to those prayers something that does not come naturally. He reminds us to be thankful. Gratitude, you see, is the doorway to contentment. You cannot be thankful and discontent at the same time. It is as if thankfulness bends the elbow. It allows us to take the circumstances that we had been holding at arm’s length and to draw them to our hearts.
Contentment Through the Tears
When I prayed, “God, give my daughter the ability to eat – make her hungry, make her willing, make her able! But, oh God, thank you for her G-tube, thank you for this formula, thank you for this pump. Thank you for keeping her alive so that I may have these days with her.” I clothed myself in biblical contentment. I cried out for healing while loving what I had before me. When you pray for a night of uninterrupted sleep while thanking God for the child causing those interruptions, when you pray for the subsiding of medication side effects while thanking God for medication itself, you are clothing yourself in biblical contentment. You are learning the skill of resting in the place that God has placed you, and you are building a home of loving gratitude there.
His Love Flows Steady
At first the skill may seem unnatural. You may begin clumsily and grow frustrated. But like any skill, in time you will grow more adept. You will see things you have never seen before and you will see, like tiny rays of light in the midst of great darkness, God’s kindness and provision. You will perceive His love flowing steadily, faithfully towards you even through the pain. You will find yourself building a home of gratitude in places you never thought possible and You will find yourself able to rest in circumstances you never dreamed you could. Pursue the art of contentment. Fight for your child. Cry out and seek the cures; but lift the present to your heart. Be thankful; teach your tongue to offer prayers of gratitude. Survive these days. Learn to love not what used to be, not what is to be, but what is.
If you are seeking support through prayer, please visit our Prayers for You page. In addition, we invite you to allow us to pray for you… for your heartache, for your family, for your future or whatever is pressing down on your soul today.