"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Content Determines Content

By Micky Wolf

The words of our American English language can be beautiful, intriguing—or quite confusing. Lest we have any doubt, ask anyone who was not born and raised in our country or educated in our school systems. 

Content is one of those words.  The fact content can be used as an adjective, verb or noun adds layers of meaning and complexity. In this context I will focus on two aspects: the content—the events, physical details, and information of any given day in my life, contribute to my state of being content—pleased, delighted, glad or joyful.

In conversation with someone recently, I was somewhat surprised to hear myself say, “I really am mostly content these days.” Wow, when did that happen? Being content? Is that okay for a Christian? Does it smack of complacency? Satisfaction with the status quo?

I have come to the conclusion that being content is a state of living life our God truly desires for each of us. Please note—being pleased, delighted, glad or joyful does not mean being free from pain, suffering, or some of the other things we might consider unpleasant.  The apostle Paul is an excellent example of what it means to live in this kind of contentment. [Philippians 4:12] 

The following points have been helpful reminders to me for cooperating [my part] with God’s grace [His part] in understanding the importance of the choices I make as integral to being content. 

  1. What is entering into me, the vessel?
Sometimes things may be dumped into our lives, unplanned and unexpected. More often than not, however, our days are comprised of a series of events, activities and experiences over which we do have a choice. It all begins with a willingness and openness to consider everything that occurs as acceptable or unacceptable with regard to gaining entry into my vessel. For example: What am I reading? What I am I listening to? What am I watching? What conversations am I engaging in? What am I putting in my mouth? What am I allowing into my thoughts? My feelings?

In giving ourselves the gift of a pause—the literal action of taking a deep breath, the offering of a quick prayer prior to the action of making a choice—we reap the blessings that come with letting in the good and throwing off the bad.

  1. Why am I allowing A, B, or C in?
None of us like to admit there is that one, singular, fleeting moment when we are fully responsible for the choice we are about to make. Yes, it is true that we have been and may tend to be highly influenced by what has happened to us in the past, certainly as far back as our childhood. The imprints on our body, mind, spirit, emotions and heart may run deep, for better or for worse. However, our insight into the presence of those imprints better serves us when we view them as an explanation for the way we make our present choices rather than as excuses to continue to accept and tolerate unhealthy choices and behaviors.

One of the healthy consequences of putting God on the throne in our life instead of ‘me, myself and I’ is the understanding that becomes ours for why we allow the things we allow to have entry into our being. For example: Personally, putting large amounts of calorie, fat laden food in my mouth has never been a problem. By the same token, choosing alcohol to put in my vessel as a way to ameliorate pain as a young woman led me to the life-changing realization that if I were to continue making such a choice, I could replicate my father’s life as an alcoholic, which ended abruptly with suicide at the age of 56.  

  1. Do I tend to evaluate what goes into my vessel by its size or appearance?
We can hardly believe that God exists and is real while simultaneously discounting the presence of our fallen, sinful nature. Patently allowing anything in, with the mindset that “because I am an imperfect being and just can’t help making poor choices once in awhile”, gives way to opportunities for the darker self to manifest in all its ugliness. 

What may seem to us to be the smallest, most insignificant thing we allow in to our being, may, ultimately, be the instrument of our greatest downfall and un-doing. For example: Admiring and appreciating the beauty of the man or woman making love on the movie screen in front of me is one thing; carelessly allowing the thoughts and images to continue to unfold [fill me] beyond those brief moments increases the likelihood they will become substitutes for those I experience with my spouse when we are being intimate. What we initially perceived as ‘a little thing’ can evolve into a big thing and destroy a marriage. Sadly, countless therapists and clergy across the country bear witness to that reality.

  1. Do I believe I have little control over what comes my way with regard to what I allow into my vessel?
This ties in with number two but there is another important point—our complicity with pride. It is no coincidence pride is considered the most serious of the seven deadly sins. Behaving arrogantly or proudly is the obvious ‘face’ of pride. It is quite another to notice and discern the more insidious signs of being prideful, those hidden in the guises of self-pity, playing the victim, or false piety. 

When pride prevails we allow any size and description of things to enter into our vessel, many things we would otherwise close the door to had we made the better choice of humility. And therein resides the antidote to the wiles and machinations of pride. Being humble is not about being small or hiding away in a corner. True humility is when we can fully accept the whole of who we are—our strengths, our weaknesses, our woundedness—and give all of that self in surrender to our Triune God. 

Being content, at least most of the time, is not an impossible dream, something available only to a select few of super spiritual beings. Being truly content is, to a great extent, grounded in the content of what we allow into our moment to moment, ordinary life.

What will you allow into your being, into you, the vessel, this hour, this day?

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