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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Contentment and Mercy

I was asked several weeks ago to speak on a panel at the spring women's retreat at my church about contentment. At the time, I wasn't sure what I was going to say. I had thought about speaking on growing up fairly poor (food stamps and free clinics while my parents made peanuts in graduate school) and juxtaposing that with the relative privilege of middle class life in America. I was not able to make it to speak because of a prior work commitment (on call that weekend), but I figured I would write about what I would have said.

Then that week happened. Possibly one of the most grueling weeks of my life and an emotional roller coaster. I had a miscarriage. I was, and am occasionally, in grief. Slightly less each day, but still grieving.

But contentment is not about being happy. It is not about having a great house in a wonderful neighborhood, nice car, a loving husband and a great kid. Or fabulous shoes. Always respect the shoes. I have all of those. It is not a full belly or a beach vacation. I've been there. Nor is it about being resigned to your circumstances. Been there, got the t-shirt. Contentment is about living joyfully despite your circumstances. And don't confuse joy with happiness. I have seen some of the most joyful faces in the middle of grief.

All the stuff and accolades and loved ones are not what bring contentment. If they were, you would assume that every suburbanite driving a Land Rover is the most content person in the world and that not having material wealth means a lifetime of misery. And we know that is not the case.

Over the past few days the word "mercy" keeps coming back over and over again. On the Sunday after our miscarriage, our pastor prayed for waves of mercy to meet every wave of grief for those who were suffering loss. Not mercy like this...

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

...but God's unfailing mercy. When I am tempted to be discontent with my circumstances, I remind myself of the mercy that is shown to me every day. Loss happens in a heartbeat. Quicker than a breath, you can be in a car accident, diagnosed with cancer, have miscarriages, be laid off. And it seems like this should be reason enough to rail against God and question His goodness. 

But because of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, his compassions never fail. That is from one of my favorite verses, Lamentations 3:22. For me, it is a beautiful image of being shielded from the stuff that I could be subject to, but am not. It is about the beauty of being covered by grace that is greater than all the crap in the world. It is about these words that we sang during church on the day after the miscarriage: 

God speed the day struggles will end;
Faultless we'll gaze on Your glory.
Then we will stand overwhelmed by the mercy of God.

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