I. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .
So goes that timeless line long ago penned by good ol’ Mr. Dickens. Fittingly so, I suppose. And so it was for us last year. The good worked into the bad as just a bit extra flour needed in order for the dough to rise just so. I could tell you the things learned; recount mistakes made in the flash of emotion and recollect the failures still hanging in memento, but that would only be the half of it, not the whole. Fact is I’m still wrapping my head around last year.
I know what I’d like you to see – an ever-happy little family in the throes of an adventure, all supporting one another and singing lovely songs as we skip along down the path we’re on. That’s the façade donned over our front door. The type of decorative door piece that alerts you to the sort of people who dwell there in the home, “Here lives a happy, well-adjusted family who’re as loving as they are kind.” Or some expansively general cuteness of the sort.
No one hangs a sign over the door of his house that says, “We’re done.”
Truth be known, last year was as difficult a year as we’ve lived through as a family. This is mostly due to the fact that we’re still blending, not yet blended. As I’m sure you know, making a family work is no easy feat. A blended family, well that’s an exponentially more difficult emotional mine field to cross.
All this – the wrestling of emotions, the dread of failing and the exhaustion thereafter – is how I stumbled into the holidays disoriented and just plain tired. What grew mightily as a result of my nonetheless careless navigation through countless relational difficulties had with our oldest, still grieving daughter, or buffered between her and my wife, the woman now her mom was a prickly discontentment. We simply were in a place I didn't think we should be. We should be happier, was the echo sounding through the months. The allure and luster of being or having something better. That is discontentment. There at the end of the year amidst festivities and family traditions held to, my heart spoiled upon the year in review mental playback of the worst of times.
When life is what you don’t want it to be, you should be careful to attend to the fork present in the road. One may follow the path of the discontented and yield themselves to the circumstances at hand. This is the easy way. Simply follow your heart when adverse conditions find you and there you will be, an unhappy soul fallen victim to life’s decision. And this is the thing so crucial to make yourself aware of when found at a forked path: there is another way to go.
Discontentment is little more than a lustful fantasy of something better. Somewhere else in life we are somehow better off than the moment we are actually alive in now. Mostly this is a farce, for we can only truly be who we are at the present time. We can change but that’s responding positively to discontentment and another thing entirely that we will get to in a moment. Discontentment can be a true realization, but it should serve as just that, a realization that circumstances are awful, not an abandonment of ship to try to swim to another shore where everything appears more lush and inviting. Difficulty will always be present throughout our years. Some parts will be worse than others and maybe, in the end, not everything balances justly. What if the secret to joy in life lie not in the accrual of good alone but in the whole separated from the halves and crumbs? What if your life is more uphill climbing than leisurely strolls that tend to lean gently in your favor? What then?
What does one do when they find themselves stuck in a patterned difficulty?
In these words did I find myself struggling at the end of last year. Would difficulty in parenting a blended family persist? How about my shortcomings as a husband or my despondent frustrations with a lack of clear purpose infusing itself into all areas of life - as a writer, a man, a husband, a dad and all the other important little areas? These were patterns that formed throughout the year, and I leaned toward the easy way.
II. The fork in the path:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
Philippians 4:11-12 (ESV)
Weary I dropped into a seat in the general area our family normally sits for Sunday morning church service. I’d had my fill of good holiday excitement and relegated the remainder of my time off of work to relax. The problem was there was little rest in my thoughts. Something was askew inside. One of our pastors gently began to deliver his thoughts rooted in these words of St. Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi. I was indeed standing before two ways to go. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound,” read the apostle’s words. Following along as our pastor read aloud, I too, learned of that secret. Contentment is a sacred acceptance of things as they are, and even may continue to be, where I no longer exist as the ruling centrality of my own life and happiness. In the end, choosing to be content is centering upon God rather than my fickle heart and shifting circumstance. I can rebel against difficult circumstance and elude the fleeting trap of all being good. This you can be sure of: the conditions will constantly be in flux, but you don’t have to.
Come what may in the good year ahead. I know how to go again.