No fit pitchin’

I bet it’s happened to you. You’ll read a passage of Scripture, one you’ve scanned countless times before, and the Spirit will point out something you hadn’t noticed previously. Not surprising, since God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.[1]

Such was the case when I was asked to prepare a devotion on Philippians 4:11. I suppose I’d always focused on Paul’s ability to be content in whatever situation he found himself in, but this time, “I have learned” caught my attention. The fact Paul had to learn how to be content implies contentment isn’t a natural state for us.

If we have any doubt about that, we need look no further than our children. Even if I’d forgotten the clashes and complaints of my own dear, now-adult daughters, I spend time with my beloved grandchildren, ages 2, 4 and 6, on a regular basis. Just the other day, all three were howling over the same orange ball. Said item held no interest whatsoever until one chose to play with it, whereupon it became the only toy worth having. This, even though there were dozens of other options to choose from.

Likewise, protests can erupt over perceived parental partiality, different foods touching on the dinner plate and being asked to come inside on a pretty day. As they get older, our offspring often chafe under our rules. Stakes are higher as peer pressure sets in and they become more aware of status associated with material belongings.

To be sure, I’m not saying dissatisfaction is only an issue for the young. We know contentment is just as tenuous and elusive for adults, if not more so. Frequently, we  strive to  fulfill not only our own needs, desires and expectations, but also those of our significant others – spouses, parents, children, friends. Too often we seek fulfillment in circumstances, relationships, accomplishments and/or possessions. But circumstances change, sometimes quickly, possessions lose their luster as the next best thing comes along and relationships can be stressful, especially if we’re people pleasers.

If we think of contentment as a first cousin to joy and peace, which are fruits of the Spirit,[2] we begin to see it isn’t a result of externals at all, but a reflection of our internal state. Neither is contentment an emotion. In one of his sermons on Philippians, our pastor declared, “Contentment is a state of being, anchored firmly in the confidence that God is sovereignly working out the details of our lives, moment by moment from beginning to end.”[3] That’s why Paul could say he’d learned to be content in any and every situation – the reason for his hope and the guarantee of his well-being, both temporal and eternal, rested in One who never changes.[4]

IMG_5098Faced with the orange-ball debacle, I decided no one would get to play with it. This, of course, resulted in more sobbing and anguished pleas. Eventually my three charges turned their attention to other things and peace prevailed, at least for a while. Mustering all her 2-year-old earnestness, Emma confided something to me. A smile accompanied my comprehension of what I’d missed the first time when she repeated, “No fit pitchin’, Gammie.” “That’s right, Emma. We don’t pitch fits when we don’t get what we want!”

“No fit pitchin’”, a phrase I’ve used innumerable times over the years, first with my daughters and now with my grandchildren. As I thought about the rounds of peace-followed-by-protest we’d cycled through several times that day, I wondered if I try my Father’s patience as much as my little ones try mine. No doubt I do, though my fits take a different form. Regardless of our stage of life, we have times of grumbling, fear and doubt because we’re still in the flesh.[5] That’s one reason we need each other – to remind our fellow sojourners of God’s promises. Indeed, being able to recount more and more examples of God’s faithfulness in my life and the lives of my friends is one of the best benefits of getting older. And it’s a great antidote to fit pitchin’!

Lord, please help us to say with Paul, “I’ve learned in whatever situation I am to be content”, knowing that no matter how many changes or challenges we’re faced with, You never change. You are the same from beginning to end, the Alpha and the Omega,[6] and your promises are trustworthy and true.[7]

 

For further study

The fourth chapter of Philippians holds many clues to the building blocks of the contentment Paul attests to:

  • In verses 4 thru 7 we’re told to rejoice ALWAYS, not to be anxious, to pray with thankfulness, with the promise that in so doing, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Thankfulness is a key component of contentment, as we recognize and acknowledge all God has already done for us.
  • In verses 8 and 9 Paul encourages his readers to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Once again with the attendant benefit, “the God of peace will be with you.” Similarly, 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ, while 2 Corinthians 4:18 reminds us to keep our eyes fixed not on what is seen, but what is unseen, for the former is passing away and the latter is eternal.
  • When Paul says he’s learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself, we know his life as an apostle wasn’t an easy one (major understatement). His second letter to the Corinthians details many of the hardships he endured for the Gospel, including beatings, shipwrecks and lack of adequate food and shelter.[8]
  • Nonetheless, in Philippians 4:12 Paul goes on to say, “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.” And in verse 13, a favorite of many Christians, Paul shares the “secret”: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Note his use of absolutes: every circumstance, all things.
  • Then finally in verse 19, the assurance that “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Our loving heavenly Father, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sent his precious Son to die for us has promised to meet all our needs.

 

[1] Hebrews 4:12

[2] Galatians 5:22-23

[3] Pastor Ben Duncan, Grace Covenant PCA, Dallas, GA, sermon “The Secret of Contentment, July, 17, 2016

[4] Hebrews 13:8

[5] Psalm 103:13-14

[6] Revelation 22:13

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] 2 Corinthians 11:24-27

Contentment

The dictionary defines contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Synonyms include gratification, fulfillment, and serenity. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul said he had learned to be content in all situations, whether facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need.[1] When I think of contentment, I think of Aunt Mary Kate.

Born June 4, 1903, the youngest sibling and only sister of my beloved grandfather[2], Mary Kate Phillips was much like her older brother. Slight of build and grounded in her faith, her big heart overflowed with love for others, especially her family. By the world’s standards, she was poor and most likely would have met the government’s criteria for poverty. She lived in a small 3-room house comprised of a sitting area, bedroom and kitchen, a stone’s throw from the house she was born in. For much of her life, she didn’t have running water or an indoor bathroom. I don’t know if she ever traveled outside North Carolina. Aunt Mary Kate was just shy of her 44th birthday when she lost her husband suddenly one night, presumably to a stroke. She lived alone for almost 50 years afterwards, choosing not to remarry.

My initial memories of Aunt Mary Kate date back to when my grandfather was alive. We’d sometimes cut through the field on our way to or from the post office so we could pay her a visit. But my most cherished memories came later. Early in my career, I worked a two-year stint in tech marketing. I was still living in Delaware at the time and most of my customers were located in North and South Carolina. Aunt Mary Kate and a number of other relatives were conveniently positioned between the Raleigh-Durham airport and a carpet mill I called on in Aberdeen, NC. As you might imagine, I tried to fit in visits with my kinfolks as often as possible. Although I got to see her at other times over the years, the one-on-one conversations during business trip stop-overs were among the best.

Aunt Mary Kate was always delighted to see me and welcomed me into her tiny dwelling with a big smile and a warm hug. The walls of her sitting room were lined with photos of family members. She’d take time to tell me about first one and then another, beaming with pride as she recounted accomplishments or pointed out new babies.

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Probably the most beautiful of Aunt Mary Kate’s material possessions. She wanted her namesake, my daughter Mary, to have it.

 

Based on her demeanor, you would have thought she lived in luxury, lacking nothing in terms of worldly comforts, but that was far from the case. Yet my mom attests to the fact she never heard her complain, in spite of her meager means and being widowed so young and losing a beloved 18-year old great-grandson to an auto accident.

Though I’m sure she had moments of doubt and great sorrow, I never heard her grumble either, hence I always think of Aunt Mary Kate when asked for an example of contentment. Because contentment is about what’s on the inside. It’s not about our surroundings or our circumstances or the value of our possessions. Nor is it an emotion. “It’s a state of being, anchored firmly in the confidence that God is sovereignly working out the details of our lives, moment by moment from beginning to end.”[3] That’s why Paul could say he’d learned to be content in any and every situation – the reason for his hope and the guarantee of his well-being, both temporal and eternal, rested in One who never changes.[4] The same One Aunt Mary Kate loved and trusted.

I believe thankfulness is a key component of contentment. Sometimes I’d stop by the small general store near Aunt Mary Kate’s house and pick up a Co-cola and a moon pie for her. If you’d seen her smile and heard her expressions of gratitude, you would have thought I’d given her something much more expensive. But the love given and received in those exchanges made the gift priceless. It’s a love that still touches me today and led me to name my firstborn after this dear, godly woman.[5]

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Aunt Mary Kate, 84, holding baby Mary, her 9-month old namesake. Taken August 2, 1987 on the porch of Aunt Mary Kate’s home.

 

 

I like to imagine visiting Aunt Mary Kate’s heavenly abode. I hope it will have a porch and a couple of rocking chairs where we can sit together. I look forward to seeing her sweet smile again. I know I will for Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and has promised to return and gather us to himself, FOREVER. [6]

In the meantime, may we be content, rejoicing always, praying continually and giving thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus,[7] the One in whom all God’s promises are “Yes”.[8]

 

[1] Philippians 4:11-12

[2] See “Eating apples”, in Archives, October 2015

[3] Pastor Ben Duncan, Grace Covenant PCA, Dallas, GA, sermon “The Secret of Contentment”, July, 17, 2016

[4] Hebrews 13:8

[5] My daughter, Mary Elizabeth, is named after Aunt Mary Kate and my sister, Mary Jeannette, who died in infancy.

[6] John 14:2-3

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:20