I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12
This is what plenty looks like:
There are six plastic beach buckets in my garage, crusted dirt and sand coating their outsides. Three have broken handles. One hosts a colony of spiders and those creepy, silky orbs that I can only assume are spider eggs waiting to hatch.
When we open our downstairs hall closet, we know to lunge for a blue and white golf umbrella leaning precariously against the door before it clatters to the ground. It is one of three to be found in the overcrowded closet of a family in which there are no golfers.
In one of my kitchen drawers there are 22 napkin rings, some orphans from full sets that have dwindled over time. Others, like the pink wooden pig with a giant napkin-shaped hole through his belly, impulse buys.
Plenty and contentment are not the same thing.
I’ve been reading Philippians all wrong. Here’s the way it reads in my mind:
I have known what it is to have plenty. (And believe me that is great.) But then things went wrong and, well, I have known what it is to have need. But I somehow manage to still be content, even during the lean times when I am living in want.
See what I did there? How I quickly I equated plenty with contentment? As though the writer’s real feat was finding a way to be happy only when he was without. As though the lesson is to buck up when we are in need, muddling through until we get back to plenty again.
My interpretation isn’t supported by the text. The passage does not link contentment to plenty. Three times the challenge of the contentment is posed equally to both the haves and have-nots.
My family just completed a Year of No Buying, or AYNOB, as we call it around here. (Yes, we know the acronym is off…)
We started our journey clear on the rules but less so on the reasons. Last January when people asked about what we were up to, I was hard-pressed to explain. It felt like the need to lift my head and look around. Or like the desire to scrub something clean. The feeling came from bloated dresser drawers and half-hearted Christmas lists and from knowing that we had absolutely everything we needed – and then some. And then some again.
We began the year propelled by the energy of having made a resolution but not entirely sure where to direct it. We had resolved to stop doing something, not start. So it was that we found ourselves in the funny and somewhat uncomfortable position of having to sit back and wait for the ramifications to unfold. I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Who knew, for instance, how much time our consuming was consuming? Stop shopping, buying, and (therefore) storing, caring for, and disposing of stuff, and a wealth of hours will rush in to fill the vacuum. My own extra time translated into reading and writing. We had more family outings and more lazy Saturdays, and in the bargain got laughter and creativity and relationship and rest. In the face of a culture that is constantly telling us otherwise, AYNOB allowed us to separate our joy from our things. We were left to find it elsewhere.
My youngest son loves our dog Lupin, a brown mutt with one ear that stands up and one that lies flat. This dog could have no greater champion than Elliot. When Lupin ate the large, hollow chocolate bunny from Elliot’s (recycled) Easter basket while we were at church, Elliot, age 9, simply picked up the shredded foil with a smile and said, “Lupin must really love chocolate.” The rest of us—bracing for an outburst—were astonished. The dog, bloated and shame-struck, had slunk under the kitchen table. Elliot, in an act of Easter solidarity and forgiveness, crawled under the table to sit with him.
Elliot wants nothing more than for Lupin to sleep with him on his bed. Lupin somehow isn’t hip to this and chooses to bed down with our 14 year old, which is okay with me as it consolidates all the stink in one room. Lupin is a tease, though. He will regularly hop up and settle in with Elliot and me as we read before bed. But as soon as I get up to turn out the light, he dutifully follows me—hopping off Elliot’s bed and padding behind me to my next destination until he settles in with Oliver an hour or so later.
I’ve tried everything—sneaking out, creating enticing nests of blankets next to Elliot, commanding Lupin to “Stay!” Nothing has worked. Then the other night Lupin, exhausted from a day at doggie day care, hopped up to nestle in with us for a few chapters. While we read he fell into deep dog sleep, his twitching legs betraying dreams of a chase. When I got up to leave, Lupin didn’t move. Elliot and I exchanged surprised glances. I planted a kiss on Elliot’s head, turned out the light, and silently backed out of the room.
An hour later I swung back by for a peek. In the ray of light spilling in from the hall, I could see Elliot in his own deep sleep, curled up against Lupin’s warmth, his little arm slung over the dog as though he were a larger than normal stuffed animal. I stood there in the doorway, watching their chests rising and falling together in the quiet darkness of the room.
This is what contentment looks like.
Check out this Love Note to Life.
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