I pulled this painting out of a box the other day, and just for the pure heck of it I hung it on our bedroom wall. Maybe it was just a strangely philosophical mood that I was in, but this painting got me thinking.

I painted it one afternoon in the autumn, shortly after our arrival in England the first year. It was the view out my living room window. The fog had rolled in so far that it seemed to come right to the edge of our yard. Just for fun I sat down and painted it. As I pulled it out the other day and looked at it, I got all nostalgic. You know how that can happen? A song, a smell, or a snapshot can bring on a whole host of memories – and for just a second can give you that fleeting, wistful, poignant feeling that is much bigger than the smell or the song itself.

We lived that year on the grounds of a 16th century manor in a little stone cottage on Church Lane out in the country. Just past the edge of our yard (covered in fog in the picture) was the Saxon Burial Field. The manor was surrounded by an old stone wall, had beautiful gardens, an Orangery, and an Apple Croft. When Charles I was running from Cromwell, he snuck out of Oxford in the night and rode his army up Church Lane, past our house, and supposedly stayed the night in the manor. We could walk the footpath down to the Thames, or across the fields to the pub for dinner and a pint. The kids played in the hedges, and gathered up “treasures” from the Saxon Burial Field that actually turned out to be bits of Roman pottery. Tiny, wild strawberries grew along the footpaths. I could see the church tower out our window, and listen to the bells ring.

When I pulled out my picture, all that flooded back. The fun memories of the family walking back across the fields in the very late twilight in the summertime, the songbirds that sang so loudly every morning, the wild foxglove and poppies that grew everywhere. Hanging my laundry out to dry on bright Spring mornings.

But here’s the problem. Looking back on it now, those are the parts that stand out. The parts I miss. But at the time there were lots of other things mixed in as well. Things like no dryer. No dishwasher. The teeniest freezer known to man. The fact that when you set up the dining table you could no longer reach the stove, the sink, or the fridge. Unrefrigerated eggs. A really, really weird picture on our wall that came with the house . . . a drawing of an ugly mosaic. Terrible maroon damask slipcovers. Orangish-brownish, indoor-outdoor style carpeting. Yucky curtains. A dreadful coffee table. A crazy homeless man who wandered the fields and got into our trash. Two twin beds pushed together to make our bed. Those were factors that loomed large as well. The beautiful parts were noticeable at the time, but so was everything else.

But now, from this distance, all the annoying bits have fallen away like dross. They’re just funny stories if I even remember them at all. That mosaic picture absolutely drove me crazy until I finally pulled it off the wall and stuffed it behind the couch. And now of course, the mosaic picture means nothing to me. Once a  thorn in my flesh, now a mostly-forgotten detail.

So what’s my point in all this? My point is that I think contentment is the art of looking at the present the way you look at the past and the future. We look back at the past, having let all the insignificant annoyances fall away. We imagine  the future as a bright and rosy  time that will have no annoyances at all.

Think of that nostalgic feeling I was describing earlier. Say you hear a song on the radio, and it brings back a wonderful Summer in high school. You remember all the fun, but do you remember how stressed out you were about that zit? You look back on that era as the time you were so thin and fit . . . but remember how during the actual moment you were convinced you were fat? During that wonderful summer (the one you remember so fondly now) you probably spent the whole time longing for the day that you would have your driver’s license. Because, as we all know, as soon as you have your driver’s license, life becomes one long glamorous adventure. (Remember thinking that?!)

When you’re a young mom, older women tell you all the time that you should make sure to enjoy it . . . because these years go by so quickly. Instead of rolling your eyes and thinking, “let’s pray they do,”  try and actually stop and listen to that advice. Realize that you’re going to look back on this someday, and the diaper blowouts will have disappeared from the picture. The messes won’t even be remembered. Instead of spending all your time imagining a flawless future, or wishing to get back a (supposedly) flawless past, try and look at your present circumstances in the same way. Let the dross fall away now, and be content now. It takes real discernment to be able to see what details are actually insignificant. You can’t (and you shouldn’t) pretend like the annoyances aren’t there. But you can try to see them in perspective. You can laugh at them. You can see them as the dross they are. You can decide to not let them distract you from the gold. You can decide to not let them dominate you. Because how tragic is it to go through every day, missing the beauty of the moment because you’re too busy re-imagining yesterday’s beautiful moment – and wishing for tomorrow’s beautiful moment. Try and revel in what God is giving you right this minute.

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38 thoughts on “Contentment

  1. Thank you for the wonderful post. Today is all I have… the past is done, the future is undecided and in God’s hands only … contentment is a must for a real life.

  2. Beautiful! Today, my daughter and I were remembering how, at the end of my last pregnancy I became kind of cranky and complainy, and I began to sort of imaging that I would always be pregnant and that no-one had ever been so large and uncomfortable. We laughed at the stark contrast with our joy over the birth of that sweet baby. And how all the memories of discomfort steeping in impatient unhappiness just blew away like a vapor.
    And I was kind of stunned to see that I have been doing something very similar again, as I am required to wait much longer than I want to wait for something which feels important to me.
    So thank you for this post. Very helpful.

  3. Beautiful!

    This resonates in my heart, and is something I have been trying to encourage in others, particularly younger moms. With a married daughter now, yet still many little ones at home, I have a broader perspective of how quickly these days pass. So I cherish them…even the not-so-pleasant moments like diapers, potty training, and sleepless nights.

    Thank you for this precious illustration!

  4. Well, I can certainly see where you got your gift for writing. I hope you keep on writing, you have a beautiful, beautiful gift.

    I am also a new subscriber to your blog. I love to read good writing. BTW, this was not just good, but excellent!!!!!

  5. First, the painting is very fun. Second, this post is great. Third, WHEN (if I may be so bold as to ask again) is your book coming out? The title is right there in black & white on page 48 of Wordsmithy, and, well, as I revel in what God is giving me right this minute, I am also looking forward to pre-ordering my copy. 🙂

  6. Thanks. Exactly what I needed. I’m a newlywed in a new town, and I know one day I’ll look back in these years and forget the petty aggravations and only remember all the time we got to spend together and the newness and the beautiful way Jesus is speaking to us in new ways through each other. I’m going to let the dross fall away today.

  7. I hope you don’t mind men commenting, Bekah, because I want you to know how helpful this is, even for a guy! You really have a gift. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for this post. It is EXACTLY what I was needing RIGHT NOW! I can’t believe how timely most of the posts on this blog are for me. God is up to something in this, and I know its not just a coincidence. I’ve been feeling so bogged down with my 3 small boys lately…just feeling haggard and wondering if its always going to be so intense every day! I find myself often impatiently waiting for the future when they are older. You are so right in that upon remembering past memories/experiences, and in imagining the future, we remember the positive and imagine no future annoyances or grievances. Thank you for helping me to readjust my perspective-not ignoring the dross, but laughing at it and not letting it dominate me. THANK YOU for your timely words!

  9. Wow! Talk about a timely word….this is something that God will have to work in me as I definitely live mostly in the past and the future. Funny thing is that when the future becomes the present, it’s just like the past!

  10. thank you, i sit for awhile ashamed, then i will go ahead repent and try to begin acting on this exhortation. good kick in the patooie.

  11. Lovely post.
    I make contentment my goal on a daily basis and over the years have found it now comes very easily.
    Maybe it’s because I don’t need materials trappings to make me happy. An hour in the garden, a sunny corner with a good book from the library and a cup of tea, a walk along the beach with the dogs, especially on a stormy day. These are the things that make me feel truly happy and alive.

  12. Thank you so much for this. I definitely have a tendency to feel really nostalgic about the past. I love this season I’m in. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 27, so I had quite a longer season of singleness and I lived it to the hilt. I taught ESL to children and adults, loved my students and many opportunities to reach out to families. It’s actually what led me to my husband. Sometimes I get nostalgic about that season and miss it, but let me tell you…it is definitely a candy coated memory. It was also VERY stressful and busy, too much so for me. It’s good to remember that…be thankful for the good but not imagine it better than it was!

  13. I can totally relate to your issue with contentment while living overseas. I lived in the (former Soviet) Republic of Georgia for a year. It’s basically a third world country but living in the capital really isn’t that bad. Still I found myself having a hard time being thankful for the large apartment we had with heat, water, and electricity (most of the time) and instead I gripped about the ugly furniture – shiny dressers with broken drawers and bright pink paint in the kitchen. I went as far to threaten to move unless they painted it blue and gave me a bigger dining room table. I’m ashamed of that now. I was even jealous of my missionary friends who could at least make their apartments in the “ghetto” look homey because they could bring more things from home with them compared to the 2 suitcases we were living out of.
    As far as living with small children now I am doing my best to want to enjoy them now and not just “survive” the little years. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Though I often get a laugh when you are spouting off about some aggravation or another, this is the kind of post which is more like a tall glass of water.
    You have served me a little grease for my drying cogs. Just last night, my husband and I were both making fun of my uptight response to the way the chips and dip were being devoured by our children. Your right, I won’t remember the mess, but I will remember how cute it was to see our little one trying to get her share.
    Thank you for the leg up Bekah!

  15. Thank you for this beautiful post. It was your picture that got me reading this post. I wish I could own it! I needed these wise words, as I am struggling with contentment these days.

  16. Bekah, you have become a very wise woman. Thank you for putting contentment into such a good perspective. I think we all need reminders such as this.

    Aunt Monica

  17. We have just moved (arrived today!)from South Africa to Tanzania, where we will be for 3 years. This post made me cry- its just what I needed to hear. Thank you*

  18. Thanks..I too am moving, tomorrow. We have so many blessed memories in our current location that I am in a state of mourning. The place we’re moving does not hold all the character this one does, it is not a “pretty” home by any means. However, your post reminded that this home was not “pretty” when we moved in either. In fact, it had been vacated for 5 years, except for the few stray racoons and birds who had found their way in. Yes, we completely reclaimed this house for human habitat. Now, it’s time to move on, and I hurt. I also rejoice for God is forever faithful…no matter where we live or in what conditions. Thanks for reminding me.

  19. Beautiful post…thank you for your words!

    I have linked to this post from my blog, hoping my readers (though they are few in number) will come over and read it too!

    Thank you!

  20. It has SO HARD to hang on to that contentment when the kids are nagging you to the point of distraction, the mess never stops, etc. But there really is LIFE in the mess and mayhem.

    Beautifully written – thank you for taking the time.

  21. I am an older widow that remembers the good and wonderful parts of a long and happy mariage, Always happy and cheerful, No, but like your mosiac that is forgotten No longer one on the gum stuck in the hair and pb&J everywhere. You write to all ages,Thanks

  22. I read this when you first published it, but haven’t had a chance to comment until now. I really appreciated this post! One of the greatest gifts from my Grandma (who lived through the Great Depression in the South and was an WWII Army nurse stationed in Guam for most of the war) was the perspective that we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand nor should we ever stop to look for silver linings and rainbows. Seasons come and go, and we really don’t know how long each will last. 🙂

  23. I’m currently back in California for a week, and driving down the road I was hit with a wave of love for the times we had here. All I could remember was the constant sense of adventure waiting for us around the corner – every few weeks a long drive to the mountains or beach and that spicy tang in the air. I knew I was forgetting the depression and struggles to feel at home in this place, but for that moment I wanted to ditch our new home and come live where I could again be constantly wooed by the promise of new adventures. I know that owning our first home is likewise an adventure, but it’s easy to start hankering for a time when we had fewer strings tying us down to one place.

  24. This really touched my heart and helped me right when I needed it. Will enjoy and appreciate my 5 month old baby girl today. Thanks. 😉

  25. Beautifully said…I’ll be reading this repeatedly to let it soak in, & maybe writing a few quotes to post on my fridge. I’m in the midst of life homeschooling 6 children, from 12 to 1 years old, while we are also trying to make some big life decisions about church & moving. I definitely lose perspective often, & I want & need to be presently content, not pining for the future good.

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